Christians and Muslims Want Public Voice

Panel Rejects States Pitted Against Religion

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MECHELEN, Belgium, OCT. 23, 2008 ( A panel of Christians and Muslims is affirming that people can be citizens and believers, and that being a person of faith and a good citizen are not mutually exclusive identities.

This is one point from a final statement released today from a Muslim-Christian conference on “Being a Citizen of Europe and a Person of Faith: Christians and Muslims as Active Partners in European Societies.”

The conference began Monday and ended today. It was sponsored by the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences and the Conference of European Churches.

The Christian-Muslim group noted that some European nations have state churches, while others do not. “All, however, ideally have taken a decidedly neutral stance as regards religion. […] There are, however, cases where one detects a process that is leading towards a progressive relegation of religion to the private sphere.”

The final statement urges states to “guard against confronting its citizens with the choice between loyalty towards it and fidelity towards their religious convictions.”

“As Christians and Muslims we affirm that we are citizens and believers, not citizens or believers,” the group emphasized. “We are therefore called to work hand in hand in appropriate ways with the state to which we belong without becoming subservient to governments. […] As Muslims and Christians we believe in the principle of integration. This does not and must never carry with it the demand to forsake our religious identities.

“For example, this may happen through prohibiting the wearing or display of religious symbols in public places or neutralizing religious festivities with the pretext that their being allowed would harm the sensibilities of other believers or that they would go against the principles of the secular state.”

The interreligious panel affirmed that human beings discover their identity through relationship with God.

“This leads us,” they wrote, “to affirm the utmost importance and vital role of the family, of human dignity, of social justice, of care for the environment. This should also rule out any use of violence in the name of religion. We also reject militant and hostile forms of secularism which create discrimination among citizens and leave no space for religious belief and practice. We need to endorse not just the social involvement of faith communities, but also the common calling to live by the Word of God.”

The panel affirmed that identity “has many strands, of which religion is one.”

“Strength in a rope comes from many strands being intertwined, including our identity as Europeans, as citizens of particular countries, and our ethnic background,” the final statement affirmed. “We are challenged to build bridges across cultures and faiths. Europe is called to be a laboratory of learning for both Muslims and Christians.”

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