How the Irish, and Many Others, Lost Their Religious Freedom to COVID Restrictions

A visitor prays during mass at a Roman Catholic church in Knock, Ireland, in 2010. (Cathal McNaughton/Reuters)
Around the world, religious institutions bore the brunt of coronavirus rules. We can’t let this happen again.

In Ireland, you can face six months behind bars for forging a drug prescription. Or for stealing€20,000 from your employer for luxury holidays. Or, until recently, for attending church.

Even in a year that has turned societal norms on its head, it’s surely a surprise that the Emerald Isle, once a home away from Rome for Europe’s Catholics, got into this state. There are few places more steeped in Church tradition.

Ireland, of all places, enforced some of the most draconian restrictions on religious freedom in the world during the pandemic. Authorities didn’t just close places of worship; they criminalized anyone who would attend a service or a Mass, regardless of their willingness to mask and distance. When a rural priest from County Cavan tried to hold a service, police set up checkpoints surrounding the building and fined him for daring to bid parishioners to come to a large, airy church. Meanwhile, dry cleaners, supermarkets, and even liquor stores stayed open for business. It was considered safer to pick up a cheap merlot outside a corner off-license than to take bread and wine in a socially distanced Communion service with holy God.

 

With the internationally solidified right to worship trounced in favor of one’s right to a spruced-up suit, the Irish government’s religious illiteracy in the context of fundamental freedoms has been exposed. And it’s a far-reaching problem across the global West. In Nevada, citizens were left with no choice but to render unto Caesars Palace when casinos stayed open, but churches had to close. Meanwhile, a young doctor serving on a COVID ward became the “David” of Switzerland in May, taking a slingshot to the sweeping, Goliathan ban by getting the Constitutional Chamber of Geneva to recognize it as unnecessary and disproportionate. They could hardly decide otherwise. Professional choirs were allowed to meet for practice, and demonstrations could take place. Why were Christians ever considered more contagious?

Indeed, millions of others across the Continent were affected by severe worship restrictions at some point during the pandemic. For a society built on Judeo-Christian values, it’s been a stark revelation of how little we think of our foundations. Somebody check on Nietzsche — he might be getting his mourning clothes out again to proclaim that God is dead.

Undeniably, churches play an immensely important role in society. At a time of loss and grieving, who can question the benefit of accessing a transcendent touch-point — a place to find hope and comfort amid despair? But the significance of religious freedom in the midst of a global crisis goes beyond even spiritual welfare. It’s a test of which human rights the government truly values under pressure and which it doesn’t. The right to worship is a deeply personal one. When that right is lost and discarded, it puts the very premise of all human-rights protections at risk. And if, in the global shake-up, respect for religious freedom is proven to be nothing more than a cathedral built on sand, it’s not going to be respected tomorrow either.

If you’re hearing a faint solo over the Irish Sea, it might be a “hallelujah” — after almost 12 months of criminalization, churches reopened recently, albeit at a limited capacity. It’s good news for many. However, the Irish government has never acknowledged that the blanket ban was ever wrong. The next time an emergency hits, it will be back to police squadrons and church raids in another bizarre blend of Exodus meets World War Z. And so a Galway businessman, Declan Ganley, has taken up the challenge of persuading the courts of Ireland to join those in Scotland, Switzerland, Chile, and several U.S. states in striking down the disproportionate ban once and for all.

Christians across the country are voicing their support for the principle. Hundreds have already signed an open petition to the government asking for a commitment that the ban will never be imposed again. Court dithering and delaying has left the situation somewhat unclear. But even though the churches can now open, the courts still have an opportunity to tackle the much deeper issue: Is religious freedom really worth protecting? Did the government indeed violate that fundamental right? And do we need to do better to make sure that the rights of religious groups aren’t left vulnerable in the next global emergency?

Source: nationalreview.com


European Parliament due to vote on ‘extreme’ abortion report

CNA_54b530740ba73_44984.jpgThe European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on Nov. 25, 2014. Credit: Alan Holdren/CNA.

The European Parliament is due to vote on an “extreme” report calling on all European Union member states to allow access to abortion.

The report, presented by Croatian politician Predrag Fred Matić, also seeks the recognition of a “right to abortion” and the redefinition of conscientious objection as a “denial of medical care.”

The report was tabled May 25 for a vote at the next plenary session of the European Parliament, the EU’s law-making body, in Strasbourg, France, on June 7-10.

Pro-life groups have expressed alarm at the report, which they say violates the established principle that abortion laws fall within the competence of member states, rather than EU institutions.

Most of the EU’s 27 member states permit abortion on demand or on broad social grounds, except Malta and Poland, which have strong pro-life laws.

The Parliamentary Network for Critical Issues (PNCI), based in Washington, D.C., described the report as “extreme” and “radical.”

The European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ), an NGO based in Strasbourg, suggested that supporters of the draft resolution were seeking “to introduce a new norm without it appearing at first sight to be imposed.”

It said: “The choice of the institution in this strategy is not to be underestimated, because although the resolutions of the European Parliament have no binding legal value, they are the expression of an opinion that the Parliament wishes to make known.”

“A resolution may subsequently serve to politically legitimize action by the member states or the institutions; it is intended to produce practical effects.”

“More importantly, it can express a pre-legislative intention that can later be used to justify binding acts. There is, therefore, no doubt that an act of the European Parliament represents the gateway to the heart of the normative system.”

The “Report on the situation of sexual and reproductive health and rights in the EU, in the frame of women’s health” was adopted by the European Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality on May 11.

An accompanying “explanatory statement” claimed that the report “comes at a crucial moment in the EU, with backlash and regression in women’s rights gaining momentum and contributing to the erosion of acquired rights and endangering the health of women.”

Two Members of the European Parliament, Margarita de la Pisa Carrión and Jadwiga Wiśniewska, set out a “minority position,” arguing that the report had “no legal or formal rigor.”

“It goes beyond its remit in addressing issues such as health, sexual education, and reproduction, as well as abortion and education, which are legislative powers belonging to the member states,” they wrote.

“It treats abortion as a purported human right that does not exist in international law. This is a breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the main binding treaties, as well as of the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the European Union.”

They noted that 154 amendments were tabled against the text.

The European Parliament passed a resolution last November lamenting what it called a “de facto ban on the right to abortion in Poland.”

It backed the resolution by 455 votes to 145 after Poland’s top court ruled that a 1993 law permitting abortion for fetal abnormalities was unconstitutional.

Catholic bishops across Europe criticized the resolution. In a letterreleased in February, they said that it would have “a very negative impact” on the way the EU is seen by its member states.

A bill seeking to decriminalize abortion was introduced in Malta’s parliament May 12. The bill is the first of its kind in the Mediterranean country. Malta’s President George Vella has said that he would rather resign than sign the bill.

The ECLJ highlighted the new report’s threat to conscientious objection to abortion.

Noting that many EU member states recognize healthcare professionals’ right to refuse to participate in activities that would violate their consciences, the report said: “Moving forward it should be addressed as denial of medical care rather than the so-called conscientious objection.”

The ECLJ pointed out that the right to freedom of conscience is guaranteed by international and European law.

“The fundamental nature of this freedom no longer needs to be proven; it is even described by the European Court [of Human Rights] as the foundation of democratic society,” it commented.

Source: catholicnewsagency.com


Austria’s Catholic Bishops: Provide ‘Assistance to Live,’ Not Assistance to Suicide

In their message, the Austrian bishops said: “We know from countless encounters with the dying that the last phase of life, in particular, can be a blessing. In many cases, important encounters and moments of reconciliation are still possible.”

Assisted suicide is currently punishable by up to five years in prison.
Assisted suicide is currently punishable by up to five years in prison. (photo: Patrick Thomas / Shutterstock)

VIENNA, Austria — Austria’s Catholic bishops urged the authorities on Tuesday to offer people “assistance to live,” rather than assistance to suicide.

The bishops issued a statement June 1 in the wake of a ruling by the country’s top court that assisted suicide should no longer be a criminal offense.

“Dying is a part of life, but not killing. Assisted suicide must therefore never be understood as a medical service or otherwise a service of a healthcare profession,” the bishops wrote in the five-page message marking the Austrian Church’s Day for Life.

The constitutional court argued in its Dec. 11 judgment that the country’s criminal code is unconstitutional because its ban on assisted suicide violates the right to self-determination. It ordered the government to lift the ban in 2021.

Assisted suicide is currently punishable by up to five years in prison.

At the time of the ruling, Archbishop Franz Lackner, the president of Austria’s Catholic bishops’ conference, said that the judgment marked a fundamental “cultural breach.”

CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported that the bishops urged legislators on Tuesday to take a number of steps to safeguard citizens, including expanding suicide prevention efforts, limiting the possibility of pressure from third parties, and guaranteeing conscientious objection.

“The limits of self-determination become apparent in life crises, in the event of a serious experience of suffering or in the face of a death that is becoming tangible,” the bishops wrote.

“It is an illusion to believe that we can determine ourselves completely and independently at any moment. As the constitutional court also admits, experience teaches us different things: We need each other! Man is a social being, always dependent and receptive to the expectations and valuations of the people around him.”

Austria is a country of almost nine million people bordered by the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and Germany.

In September 2020, the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation reaffirmed the Church’s perennial teaching on the sinfulness of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Since then, supporters of the practices have made gains in several European countries.

In February, Portugal’s parliament backed a bill approving euthanasia. But President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa vetoed the bill.

Also in February, Catholic leaders and human rights advocates expressed concernover a bill seeking to legalize physician-assisted suicide in Ireland.

In the same month, Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court ruled that a provision in the German Criminal Code criminalizing commercial assisted suicide is unconstitutional.

In March, Spain’s legislature passed a law legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide, making Spain the fourth country in Europe to legalize the practice, after the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg.

Meanwhile, a peer in the House of Lords, the U.K. parliament’s second chamber, recently put forward a proposal to revisit the legalization of assisted suicide.

In their message, the Austrian bishops said: “We know from countless encounters with the dying that the last phase of life, in particular, can be a blessing. In many cases, important encounters and moments of reconciliation are still possible.”

“In addition, a widely publicized option to commit suicide puts pressure on all those who face life until natural death and are dependent on the help of others to do so.”

The bishops added, “According to the dangerous logic of euthanasia, they too would have the possibility to end their lives ‘autonomously.’”

Source: ncregister.com


Finland’s prosecution of Christian MP over biblical views is ‘act of oppression,’ legal scholars warn

Finland, Päivi Räsänen
Finnish Member of Parliament, Päivi Räsänen. | ADF International

Law professors and scholars are calling on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to pressure the State Department to sanction Finland’s prosecutor general for prosecuting a Christian politician who shared her biblical beliefs on sexuality and marriage.

In an open letter published by Real Clear Politics last Friday, professors from Ivy League institutions like Harvard University, Yale University and Princeton University spoke out in defense of Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Juhana Pohjola. They both face criminal charges related to Räsänen expressing her Christian views on marriage.

Räsänen, a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, could face up to six years in prison after being charged with three counts of ethnic agitation related to statements she made expressing her beliefs pertaining to human sexuality and marriage.

Räsänen is the former chair of the Christian Democrats and a former interior minister who has served in Parliament for seven terms. The mother of five, who is married to a pastor and Bible college principal, has been under police investigation since June 2019.

She publicly voiced her opinion on marriage in a 2004 booklet on sexual ethics, describing marriage as between one man and one woman. She also expressed her views on a 2019 radio show and tweeted church leadership on the matter.

Prosecutors determined that her previous statements disparage and discriminate against LGBT individuals and foment intolerance and defamation. The mother of five is adamant that her expressions are “legal and should not be censored.”

In their open letter, the professors argue that the prosecution of the politician for her remarks could “compel Finland’s clergy and lay religious believers to choose between prison and abandoning teachings of their various faiths.”

“The charges against Dr. Räsänen stem from her authorship of a 2004 booklet entitled, Male and Female He Created Them: Homosexual Relationships Challenge the Christian Concept of Humanity, published by the Luther Foundation,” they wrote. “In the booklet, Dr. Räsänen argues that homosexual activity should be recognized by the church as sinful based on the teachings of the Hebrew Bible and Christian scripture.”

“Second, the Prosecutor General has charged the Bishop-Elect of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola, with one count of ethnic agitation for publishing Dr. Räsänen’s booklet,” the letter continues.

“The Prosecutor General’s pursuit of these charges against a prominent legislator and bishop sends an unmistakable message to Finns of every rank and station: no one who holds to the traditional teachings of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and several other religions on questions of marriage and sexual morality will be safe from state harassment should they, like Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen, express their moral and religious convictions.”

The letter argues that the prosecutions “constitute serious human rights abuses” because they violate Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 10 of the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights. Those documents affirm the right of an individual “to manifest his religion or belief in teaching.”

The professors urged commissioners serving on the congressionally-mandated independent commission tasked with advising the U.S. government on international religious freedom matters to urge Secretary of State Antony Blinken to sanction Finland Prosecutor General Raija Toiviainen because of “a gross violation of human rights.”

The letter’s signatories include Princeton University law professor Robert P. George, Harvard University’s Learned Hand Professor of Law Emerita Mary Ann Glendon and Harvard constitutional law professor Adrian Vermeule.

Other signatories include: Peter Berkowitz, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution; Middlebury College political science professor Keegan Callanan; Yale University history and religious studies professor Carlos Eire; Princeton University math professor Sergiu Klainerman; Princeton University international studies professor John B. Londregan; Harvard University African American studies lecturer Jacqueline C. Rivers; and attorney David Rivkin of the law firm BakerHostetler.

The signatories argue that Räsänen’s prosecution isn’t merely “mundane applications of a European-style ‘hate speech’ law.”

“No reasonable balance of the goods of public order, civil equality, and religious liberty can ever support this suppression of the right to believe and express one’s beliefs. The prosecutions are straightforward acts of oppression,” they write.

“To uphold the internationally recognized rights of freedom of expression and religious liberty, the United States must now respond to the abuses in Finland as it has recently responded to other violations of religious liberty in non-western nations.”

The letter points to how the U.S. government designated a Chinese government official as a human rights abuser for “his involvement in the detention and interrogation of Falun Gong practitioners for practicing their beliefs.”

“Prosecutor General Toiviainen’s status as a European official must not shield her from sanctions for her abuse of traditionalist Christians in Finland,” the letter argues.

In addition, the letter urges USCIRF to pressure Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to designate Toiviainen for sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act, which allows for sanctions to be placed on foreign officials believed to be responsible or complicit in severe human rights abuse.

“Prosecutor General Toiviainen and any line prosecutors who choose to assist her plainly meet this description,” the professors argue.

The letter contends that there is “no statue of limitations on human rights violations of this magnitude.”

“Should calls by USCIRF to designate and sanction Prosecutor General Toiviainen and her accomplices fall on deaf ears, we respectfully request that USCIRF not simply let the matter drop,” they conclude.

Räsänen is represented by ADF International, which argues that her case is about the freedom to express religious beliefs in the public square without the fear of government investigation.

In a March statement, Räsänen said that she did not threaten, slander or insult anyone and that her comments were all “based on the Bible’s teachings on marriage and sexuality.” She vowed to defend her right to “confess” her faith.

“The more Christians keep silent on controversial themes, the narrower the space for freedom of speech gets,” she said.

Earlier this month, the European Evangelical Alliance voiced its support for Räsänen, asking if the prosecutor is “attempting to redefine human rights law.”

“Freedom of expression gives the right for anyone to share their opinion,” EEA General Secretary Thomas Bucher wrote in a statement. “The right to freedom of expression exists to legally protect those that express views which may offend, shock or disturb others.”

Source: christianpost.com