Leadership Council for Human Rights

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Monday, March 27, 2006

Wilson Center, March 27, 2006

Woodrow Wilson Center Event Report: Human Rights Approaches to Religion: Implications for Euro-Islamic Relations

March 27, 2006

Washington, D.C – The Wilson Center welcomed Malcom Evans, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Law, and Professor of Public International Law at the University of Bristol, School of Law (UK), to talk about how Europe should deal with human rights when it comes to religious freedom and which approach they should take in a court of law.

Evans opened by addressing the history of religious freedom in Europe. He talked about the time after World War II, and how the states wanted to protect religion within whole communities and even the communities that had been broken down into smaller societies.

A time came when the state wanted to support the religious needs of the people, Evans said. The resulting problem was that laws were made protecting one form of religion but not another, as was the case with the state sponsored Anglican Church in the United Kingdom.

Evans said that a change came around 1993 with a case in Greece when the judges had a hard time deciding between freedom of expression and religious freedom. As a result, European states have taken a new approach as neutral players on religion.

Evans stated that he thinks it is very important to protect all religions and that problems can arise both in states with official religious affiliations and in states. In Evans opinion, neither model works well all the time.

Evans took an example form England of a Muslim girl who was wearing a veil in her private, secular school and was asked to take it off. The case went to court and she lost because the court said that it was not a violation of her religious freedom, since she had the opportunity to choose another school. Evans mentioned that a state church should represent the beliefs of the majority of the people there. In most cases in Europe today that is not the case, he said. For example, only a small percent of British people are practicing Anglicans. Evans also pointed out that many countries in South Eastern Europe want to have strong states at the same time as they want to have religious freedom, which is hard to combine.

In conclusion, when dealing with questions of religious freedom, it is difficult to know how best to protect everyone’s rights under different models of government. Evans made it clear that there is no right way for all the countries in Europe because of the wide range of beliefs. It is up to every state to do what provides their nation the best model, he said.


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