Join the Alliance for a Secular Europe

Veuillez trouver ici l’invitation en francais.

Many progressive causes in Europe share a common problem: opposition from reactionary religious interests. Organisations such as the European Centre for Law and Justice and CFAM (the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute) are well funded and increasingly active. Some churches are politically active, lobbying against reforms (and in some countries they benefit from direct subsidies from government). New avenues of influence such as the EU’s “Article 17″ dialogue are opening up which the churches are best poised to exploit. Opposition to abortion, contraception and other services is increasingly focussed on frustrating their availability through (in the words of a recent report from Catholics for Choice) “attempts to expand the use of . . . exemption clauses or conscience clauses under the guise of protecting healthcare providers who have a religious or moral objection to providing some or all reproductive health services”. The recent tactical defeat suffered at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is a case in point.

We write on behalf of the Advisory Board linked to the European Parliament Platform for Secularism in Politics. Our organisations are both religious and non-religious. We propose to form an Alliance for a Secular Europe – that is, a loose grouping of organisations seeking to defend progressive laws and causes against reactionary religious influence on political decision-making in Europe and, more generally, to promote secularism in European politics. By ‘secularism’ we mean the principle that purely religious concerns should have no influence on political decision-making.

Membership: We envisage that the Alliance will include many organisations with their own specialist causes – e.g., women’s or gay issues, family planning, abortion, assisted dying etc, religious groups seeking internal church reform, human rights organisations, etc. – as well as humanist and secularist (laiques) bodies. Organisations would be both European (or international) and national.

Operation: The idea is that the Alliance should operate as a Yahoo e-mail group through which its members can issue alerts and seek assistance on issues where a secular approach in Europe is in danger. Such issues may arise in any of the various European forums – the European Parliament, the European Commission or Council, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the OSCE and elsewhere. (Occasionally we may pay attention to an issue at national level, but only where a national decision would have strong international implications.) Typically we envisage that a specialist organisation would e-mail the Alliance with details of (say) a forthcoming debate in the European Parliament, providing some level of briefing on the issue, and requesting (say) letters to MEPs or party group leaders. Alliance members will then choose whether to take action, and if so whether to do so in their own names or by alerting in turn their individual members or supporters (You may wish to say: “Although this is not of direct concern to [our organisation], you may wish to take action in your private
capacity because it is another example of the sort of opposition we ourselves meet from reactionary religious interests seeking to frustrate individual freedom to choose . . .”).

Commitment: Membership of the Alliance will not imply support for any of the particular causes that may be brought to members’ attention. There will be no commitment to taking action on any particular request or alert. The Alliance will not in any way be opposed to religion as such – only to improper exercise of religious influence to seek to undermine the freedom of others. Alliance members will be asked to agree to the following statement as the basis of their membership:

The Alliance for a Secular Europe brings together organisations that favour separation of religion and politics (“secularism”) and are committed to
democracy, human rights and non-discrimination. While we have a wide range of specialist interests, we are all concerned at the way some reactionary religious forces are seeking to undermine secularism in Europe, by means such as:

- imposing by law on everyone patterns of behaviour that have their origin and only justification in religious doctrine,
- promoting unregulated exercise of conscientious objection and unwarranted exemptions from equality and non-discrimination laws,
- defending and seeking to extend financial subsidies from the taxpayer,
- exploiting special rights of access to government as with the EU’s “Article 17” dialogue.

The Alliance’s main concerns are with the European institutions – principally the EU, OSCE and Council of Europe – although national situations with clear
international implications may also be relevant. We will cooperate by the electronic exchange of information and alerts and by being ready in principle totake action (mainly by writing letters or otherwise lobbying our democratic
representatives and others) both as organisations and through our own members or supporters. We will also introduce new potential members to the Alliance.

Invitation: We therefore invite you to join the Alliance for a Secular Europe. You will have the advantage of being able to seek support on issues of concern to you from a wider range of organisations at the price only of agreeing to receive circulars about issues that do not engage your primary interests but do involve a broader threat to secular values. If you join, we will invite you to spread word of the Alliance to other organisations, including your own affiliates. There will be no subscription fee: if necessary we may ask for small voluntary contributions but we hope this will not be needed. If you wish to join, please reply to admin@secular-europe.eu saying that you accept membership on the basis of the statement set out above.

What next? When you join us, we will send you technical details of how the e-mail group will operate. We are using the facilities of Yahoo Groups. We will ask you for details of your representative(s) as members of the e-mail group. We will need:

- Your organisation name and central e-mail address (for administrative contact)
- Individual representative name(s) and e-mail address(es) (for Alliance mailings)

We will also check annually with organisations that their representatives are unchanged.

Confidentiality: We will make available to all Alliance members the list of member organisations so that they are aware whom they are addressing in sending out their own alerts. However, individual representatives’ names and e-mail addresses will be confidential.

We hope that you will see this as a valuable move towards defending our shared values and causes in Europe. Progressive causes have, we believe, for too long been isolated in the face of well organised, systematic opposition from reactionary religious quarters. The Alliance for a Secular Europe will be a small step towards co-ordinated resistance where our interests overlap.

Please join us. Organisations interested in joining the Alliance should write with details of their purpose and activities, website URL, etc to admin@secular-europe.eu.

We look forward to hearing from you.
 
Yours sincerely,

David Pollock, European Humanist Federation
Alan Frommer, Association Européenne de la Pensée Libre
Hubert Tournès, European Network Church on the Move
Jon O’Brien, Catholics for Choice
Willy Fautré, Human Rights Without Frontiers
Naomi Phillips, British Humanist Association
Jean de Brueker, Centre d’Action Laïque, Belgium
Keith Porteous-Wood, National Secular Society (UK)
Elfriede Harth, Catolicas por el Derecho a Decidir, Spain