VIENNA, Austria, NOV. 6, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Real religious freedom is not freedom from religion, says a historian writing in response to this week’s European court decision discouraging crucifixes in Italian schools.
Martin Kugler, an expert for the human rights network Christianophobia.eu in Vienna, offered 12 theses to unveil the mistaken thinking of the court, which decided in favor of an atheist mother who protested the crucifix in her children’s school.
Kugler explained: “The right to religious freedom can only mean its exercise — not the freedom from confrontation. The meaning of ‘freedom of religion’ has nothing to do with creating a society that is ‘free from religion.’
“Forcibly removing the symbol of the cross is a violation on the same level as it would be to force atheists to mount this symbol.
“The blank white wall is also an ideological statement — especially, if over the previous centuries, it had not been empty. A ‘value-neutral’ state is fiction, which is often used for propaganda purposes.”
Kugler said that decisions like that of the European court actually attack religion, instead of fighting religious intolerance.
Furthermore, he affirmed, “one cannot fight political problems by fighting against religion.”
“Anti-religious fundamentalism makes itself an accomplice of religious fundamentalism when it provokes through intolerance,” the expert observed.
And, “the majority of the affected population would like to retain the cross. It is also a problem of democratic politics, giving priority to individual interests so blatantly.”
Finally, along the lines of the argument proposed by the Italian government in defense of crucifixes in its classrooms, Kugler said that “the cross is the logo of Europe. It is a religious symbol, but still much more than that.”
In an article in Die Presse, Kugler gave further consideration to two elements of the church-state debate.
He said talk of a “value-neutral state” is “simply naive and the result of an illusion. […] rather a joke.”
“[A] value-neutral state? Against fraud and corruption? Against xenophobia and discrimination? Sins against the environment and sexual harassment in the workplace? A state that bans neo-Nazis, allows pornography, favors certain forms of developmental assistance, but others not … all due to neutral values? Someone is trying to make a fool of us,” he observed.
The scholar contended that a second point — the assumption that a public without any presence of religious life or religious symbols would be more ‘tolerant’ or more appropriate to freedom of conscience than a ‘Public Square’ which permits or even encourages statements of religious belief — deserves more consideration.
He proposed: “Of course, the atheist parent might feel his or her child being molested by the cross in the classroom. But this is inevitable. I may also feel annoyed when upon entering a post office I catch sight of a photograph of the Austrian federal president whom I have not voted for. […] Influence, ideological signals, visual presences — also sexist — will always exist everywhere.
“The only question is how and containing what.”
Kugler contended that in this regard, the state “should intervene only very moderately. And if it does, not by bans that imprison religion into a ghetto.”
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On ZENIT’s Web page:
Theses on religious freedom: www.zenit.org/article-27470?l=english