Conscience, How Dost Thou Afflict Me!

Western Europe is no longer Christian and within less than two decades it will be Islamic. The greatest threat to secularists and liberals in Europe today are not the Christians but the Muslims. This is what Theo van Gogh experienced two years ago. This is also the reason why the Swedish jeans manufacturer Bjorn Atldax, who calls religion “a force of evil,” has designed a jeans brand with an anti-Christian logo, but does not plan to make something anti-Islamic. This is why another Christian renegade, the Italian author Luigi Cascioli, has written a book with the title “The Fable of Christ” but would not contemplate writing “The Fable of Muhammad.”

Atldax and Cascioli, two white male Europeans, lack the courage of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a fellow atheist and religion hater. She has the balls that Atldax and Cascioli do not. Attacking someone whose religion teaches him to turn the other cheek is so much safer than hitting someone whose religion tells him to ritually slaughter an offender of the faith. Apart from the fact that he would not dare to write a book insulting Islam, let alone draw a picture of the Muslim prophet, Signor Cascioli would never dare to take an imam to court to prove that Muhammad really existed. He did, however, force a priest into a court of law to prove that Jesus really existed.

According to the Italian Penal Code, both “abuse of popular credulity” (Sec. 661) and “impersonation” (Sec. 494) are offenses. Based on these two articles Luigi Cascioli filed a suit against Father Enrico Righi, ordering him to prove Christ’s historical existence. Last Monday a judge in Viterbo set a preliminary hearing for the end of this month and ordered Father Righi to appear. At first the judge had refused to take up the case but he was overruled by the Court of Appeal, which agreed that Signor Cascioli had a reasonable case for his accusations of abuse of popular credulity and impersonation by Catholic priests, such as Father Righi, who “present invented facts as if true.”

This is not just an Italian anecdote. In the Belgian Senate the government parties (Liberals and Socialists) have proposed a bill, currently under debate, (text in French, text in Dutch) which makes it a penal offense, punishable by up to two years imprisonment, to “abuse credulity in order to persuade [an individual] of the existence of false enterprises, an imaginary power or the occurrence of non-existing events.”

There is also a real danger that the European Union will be abused as a vehicle for promoting an intolerant secular and anti-Christian agenda. Last month, the EU Network of Independent Experts on Fundamental Rights issued a 40-page opinion [pdf] denouncing a draft treaty between the Vatican and Slovakia that would allow medical professionals to refuse to participate in abortions and other procedures that may violate their religious beliefs and conscientious objections. According to the EU experts the legal right of an individual to an abortion overrules the right of others to refuse to participate in it whenever a refusal would entail that the abortion cannot take place.

In addition, the experts’ opinion holds that this applies not only to abortion. It adds that assisted suicide, same-sex marriage and access to contraception are also among the basic human rights guaranteed to citizens of the EU. On euthanasia the experts write:

“For instance, although neither euthanasia nor assisted suicide are protected as such under the European Convention on Human Rights or any other international human rights instrument, in a State where euthanasia or assisted suicide are partially decriminalized, the right to religious conscientious objection, while it should be recognized to the medical doctors asked to perform euthanasia or to assist a person in committing suicide, should not be exercised in a way which leads to depriving any person from the possibility of exercising effectively his or her rights as guaranteed under the applicable legislation.”

The “right” of individuals to a same-sex marriage also has consequences for civil servants and, according to the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM) in its latest Friday Fax could possibly even require that clergy perform ceremonies which directly contradict their faith. In their text the EU experts say that:

“the right to religious conscientious objection may be invoked by an officer refusing to celebrate a marriage between two persons of the same sex or where one of the prospective spouses is a transsexual. It would be unacceptable to allow this to result in marriage being unavailable to the couple concerned: any form of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (as would result from the refusal to celebrate a marriage between two persons of the same sex where this institution is recognized) and any violation of the right to marry of transsexuals should not be tolerated, and the public authorities should ensure in such circumstances that other officers will be available and willing to celebrate those unions.”

The conflict arises when the state cannot guarantee that other officers are available. In such cases the right to conscientious objection has to give way to the right of the individuals to the abortion, assisted suicide or same-sex marriage they can legally claim. Indeed, as the experts say, the right to conscientious objection is not “unlimited.” In this respect the text of the EU experts refers to pharmacists who are unwilling to dispense drugs to which they are morally opposed, such as contraceptives, abortifacient pills or euthanasia kits:

“The case-law of the European Court of Human Rights suggests that, where access to contraceptives is legal, women should not be deprived of such access because of the exercise, by health practitioners or pharmacologists, of their right to religious conscientious objection: under this case-law, a State may oblige pharmacologists to sell contraceptives, at least where women would otherwise not have access to contraceptives.”

In 2001 Nynke Eringa, a civil servant in the Dutch town of Leeuwarden was fired because she refused to perform gay marriages, recently legalized in the Netherlands. Though the civil servant had made her conscientious objection public, gay couples explicitly demanded to be married by her and not by other civil servants. When she continued to refuse the COC, a gay rights organisation, demanded – and obtained – her dismissal, although the town spokesman conceded that he “got the impression that COC had intentionally sent the homosexual couples to a civil servant whom they knew was a conscientious objector.”

In 2004 Eringa’s dismissal was annulled because the town had made procedural errors when she was sacked. The authorities have since decided that conscientious objection can only be claimed by civil servants who were already in office before 2001, while those employed after the legalization of gay marriages do not have a right to refuse to marry gays. This means that access to jobs in the civil service which involve performing registry office marriages is effectively denied to religious people who refuse to participate in same-sex marriages. Similarly, in some Western European countries today the tendency is to effectively exclude Christians from medical professions by introducing requirements that force students to participate in abortions during their studies.

Last October, Xavier Desmet, a notary from Antwerp, was threatened with a court case by the Belgian government’s Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism (CEOOR) because he had conscientious objections to validating a marriage contract for a gay couple. The CEOOR warned the Federation of Notaries that it can ask the court to impose a penalty for every gay couple the notary turns down. There are dozens of Antwerp notaries willing to assist gay couples. However, if Desmet ever gets convicted, homosexuals can intentionally ruin him by choosing him to validate their marriage contract. Has Europe again reached the point where it is forbidden to have a conscience? Under the Nazis having a conscience was not allowed either.


EU Brings Down Slovak Government, 9 February 2006

More on this topic:

EU to Catholic Doctors: Thou Shalt Abort, 24 December 2005

That a gov't insists its

That a gov't insists its laws be obeyed by members of all religions is, of course, completely sensible. I felt the article was more nuanced than that. The question is not so much the letter of law, it is more an examination of the intent behind the law. Is there an organized/directed attempt to make Euro-land inhospitable to Christians? Is this attempt aided by segments of the gov't?
By the way, Euro-Christians: please consider the US as a future home if things get too tough. We love our Christians. Overall, they show up for work, raise good children, support just government, strengthen communities, and on and on. Whether or not one believes in Christ oneself, it is not hard to see that having Christians in the population is a positive situation.

Conscience objection

Making people do something they have moral objections to is cruel. I understand that certain rights have to be given by law, but the government needs only to ensure that someone is available to carry out the duty required.

The Eringa case quoted above is an example where the system was abused. It was not a situation where no one else could perform the duty, but by insisting that Ms. Eringa had to be the person they were forcing their own set of beliefs on someone else. I don't think there is much doubt that they did this consciously and this makes it even more despicable.

Unfortunately, our politicians fail to see how this is just the same as the Christian Right pushing for the end to abortion or assisted suicides. They blind themselves with the concept of "forward thinking" and automatically choose for the liberal position.

We live today with some issues that our forefathers never had to deal with and they are both great and volatile. I fear that neither side will every be happy with anything but total victory and there won't be any prisoners, only the dead and mutilated.

Lord, grant me the strength to change the things I can;

the serenity to deal with the things I cannot change;

and the wisdom to know the difference.

"... and that according to

"... and that according to Christian civil servants are morally repugnant, these civil servants will lose their jobs."

I think you are going the way of the muslim here, with al this "offense" and "repugnancy".

How offensive or repugnant is it to give people a peace of paper or put a stamp on it?

Another interesting remark,

Another interesting remark, that leads us to another important matter.
The Muslims were offended by cartoons in a privately owned newspaper. It is quite a different situation if a government-owned or -subsidized paper publishes cartoons that are offensive to a segment of the population, i.e. taxpayers.
How loyal do people have to be to a state that they feel no longer embodies the values they hold dear, such as marriage, and that even mocks these values?
Perhaps a solution would be to privatize marriage - in which case we no longer need civil servants to register them. This was the situation before the French Revolution when the Church concluded marriages.

Well researched but...

You present your case much better than in the Thou shalt abort article. Two remarks : I agree that the individual right of objection on religious grounds should be absolute. However, the function of civil servant is special : you can't have your cake (paychecks from the public) and eat it too (not do what the public wants from you for the money).

So I think it is perfectly fine for Ms Eringa to be fired. Just as it would be normal if a muslim public veterinary inspector should be fired if he refuses to check on the treatment of porc meat in the slaughterhouse, or maybe just like an atheist school inspector who refuses to inspect religious classes.

Their individual right to object is guaranteed but not their right on state work. But if Ms Eringa opens a private dating service she I find it perfectly acceptable when she refuses to cater to gays. Just as I don't mind Halal butchers or a private atheist newspaper that refuses to report on the vatican.

An interesting remark, but

An interesting remark, but it means that the state can never be morally neutral, because as soon as the state allows practices (e.g. same-sex marriage) that were hitherto prohibited and that according to Christian civil servants are morally repugnant, these civil servants will lose their jobs.

On the other hand, civil servants who were in favour of gay marriages previously, did not lose their jobs when the practice was not yet allowed. Is this fair?

Major difference

There is a major difference between
(a) not being allowed to do something that is illegal, while one is not forced to do something that one's conscience objects to,
and (b) being forced to do something that is legal but that violates one's conscience.