Book Release Event for “Relationships Between States and Religions in the European Union: History and Experience” at the Press Center of SCLJ

The press center of the Slavic Center for Law and Justice (SCLJ) recently held an event for the release of the new book “Relationships between States and Religions in the European Union: History and Experience,” which was published with the sponsorship of the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The event took place on December 8.

Essentially, this book is a Russian version of the book “State and Church in the European Union” by Gerhard Robbers (ed.), published by Nomos Publishing (Germany, 2005), and adapted from English with the help of a whole team of professional translators and editors. Among the editors was Roman Lunkin, Director of the Institute for Religion and Law, Editor-in-Chief of the magazine “Religion and Law,” and Head of the Press Center of the SCLJ.

This book is likely to be a revelation for those readers who typically entertain stereotypes about European attitudes towards religion. There remains a common misconception that Europe is a stronghold of secularism, an almost anti-religious pluralism and political correctness. The book demonstrates the lack of a uniform approach to religion on the part of European governments. Established churches coexist with religious associations with the same legal status in countries where governments offer equal standing to all denominations and recognize the right to self-determination for individual believers and associations alike. The State supports and subsidizes religious education, military chaplains, and awards “a special status” to churches’ social projects. The book argues that religious associations no longer experience problems with social and missionary work or registration. Roman Lunkin writes how important it is to understand how primarily Western European governments and churches have arrived at such results. For example, in 1991 in Roman Catholic Italy, the Constitutional Court ruled that children are allowed to attend a different class or be picked up from school by their parents if they do not wish to attend a religion class espousing Roman Catholic education. Even in countries that are characterized by the staunchest protectionism of its own established church, governments have eventually realized the necessity of observing the rights of freedom of conscience and religion for all.

In the preface, Gerhard Robbers, the author of the original English-language edition, writes that the contents of the book constitute an outlook on the religious legislation of the European Union. The intention is to provide other countries, including Russia, with a method whereby it is possible to compare different religious and political systems. According to Robbers, the laws on religion are based on the fundamental and inalienable idea of religious freedom, as expressed in national constitutions and international agreements.

Religious freedom, after all, is the principal religious right backed by the law: only free-willed belief can be truthful, while a forced belief implies nothing but submission. Forcing religious issues on others is sacrilegious. Despite differences in the approach between the States of the European Union—which range from the State-supported “traditional” religion in Greece to the Established Church of England and the austerity of French secularism—religious rights are recognized as an integral part of European Law. The European Union has made a political obligation to remain tolerant and neutral concerning the issues of religion and ideology, and it considers religious rights as part of its laws. According to the authors of the book, the unification of Europe, which should provide a new impetus for the development of cultures and traditions, will largely depend on its comprising churches, the maintenance of their right to self-determination and, ultimately, their right to differ from each other.

The experience of the European Union explains how even the most conservative governments, which strive to support and preserve one or another religious denomination, will eventually need to let go of the past and learn to live in the new world of religious diversity. There are no effective measures to ban or suppress the freedom of conscience and religion, since both religions and religious associations always remain deeply rooted in civil society and democratic States, while also serving as one of their main binding elements.

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