Workshop Friday 29 April 2011, 09.30-11.00 at the Salesian House Marti Codolar in Barcelona


The position of the EN on secularism, the light of our membership of the European Parliamentary Platform for Secularism in Politics in Europe and of the Alliance for a Secular Europe [EPPSP and ASE]


Pedro Freitas in the Chair, Simon Bryden-Brook making a record.


Hubert Tournès gave an introduction to the topic.  There are 15 members in the ASE, not an anti-religious organisation but concerned with the improper influence of religion on secular institutions, the separation of religion and politics.   Current members include CFC, CCD, EN, G3i, a Belgian and an English humanist organisation, 8 organisations represented on the Advisory Board of the EPPSP and perhaps the IARF [International Association for Religious Freedom].  The Co-ordinating Group approved a decision to join the ASE, subject to the approval of the Annual Conference.   To leave now so soon after joining would be catastrophic.   Perhaps the Austrian members of the EN can accept a form of approval which allows dissent by some EN members.


François Becker insisted it is not a question of remaining within the Church but campaigning for a level playing field in the secular institutions.


Matthias Jakubec said that the Austrian groups would be crucified by their Cardinal if they were shown to be members of a group in favour of secularism.   It would be counter-productive in Austria.  This is a political decision.  Mention of the EN as supporting the ASE would mean that the Austrian members would resign from the EN as it would be interpreted as being against religion.


Gerd Wild perhaps the ASE can make it clearer what its objectives are, so it is not seen as anti-religion, but accepting all religions and convictions as equal.


Isaac Wüst wanted clarification of what the ASE stands for.  Once our societies were under the thumb of the Church but today religion is under the thumb of secular society.


Didier Vanhoutte and Maria Joao Sande Lemos agreed that we need more information so we consult our groups and make a final decision next year.


Annelies Trenning of the IAFR spoke of the need for deliberation before taking a decision. The IARF  is inclusive of Humanists, Shintoists and Taoists for example.   Secularism is not anti-religion but respects religions.


Anthony Padovano said the title for ‘for a secular Europe’ is inflammatory and offensive.  We are not in favour of a secular Europe but for conscience and human rights.  Better not to lose our Austrian members.   The language needs changing.


François Becker and Hubert Tournès explained that the EPPSP is a public forum whereas the ASE in not.  As to the language being inflammatory, the content is also   important.


Didier Vanhoutte insisted that laicité – the separation of church and state - is not the same as secularism.


Margarita Mayans Dickinson insisted that we do not want the opponents of human rights, even if religious, to have a decisive voice in society.   This is an important fight.


Matthias Jackubec said it was not only the language but also the content of what ASE stand for that is objectionable to the EN Austrian member group – e.g. being against governments financially supporting the Church, as lots of church employees in Austria would be concerned.


Sefa Ameli belongs to a group which has discussed secularism and have agreed that governments should be for a society where governments are neutral and allow religions to do their work in society.  In Spain the Catholic Church was the sole voice and indeed that of the hierarchy, according to the Concordat between Spain and the Vatican.


Gerd Wild says that the present situation allows churches to have privileges.  He suggested that the EN insists that the ASE to change its name etc and we make a decision next year.  Ruud Bunnik said this is not the time for a final decision on this matter, but we have to decide how to proceed.  Pedro Freitas said the question of language and name is indeed important.  He supported the proposal of Gerd Wild.


Annelies Trenning of IARF agreed with the need for ASE to change the name.  She asked whether the EN can work with IARF.


Simon Bryden-Brook spoke in support of the intervention of Anthony Padovano [RB, PF, GW and DV].  The UK groups are not in favour of a secular Europe but of a Europe where Jesus’ values of justice and peace prevail, those of the Reign of God, the rights of conscience and of human rights, and we are opposed to joining an association name ASE, whatever its declared objectives.


Nevenka Franich said we want a Europe for everybody and must avoid excluding language and allowing the Church privileges.  We need more documentation from the ASE.


François Becker proposed that our membership of ASE is conditional on a change of name and clarification of the language used, as they are ambiguous.  Proposes also that new study this matter of laicité and secularism more deeply, the place of women, human orientation etc – secularism based on freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, non-discrimination – separation and yet inclusion.


Gerd Wild suggested we change the name to the Alliance for Conscience and Human Rights in Europe and ask the ASE to accept this.


Isaac Wüst felt we need to prepare a document for ourselves, accepting that we all have different ideas within the EN.


Matthias Jakubec made two points.  We are surely not already members of the ASE as it has not been ratified by the General Assembly of the EN.  The EN can decide to join the ASE and ask the Austrians to delay their decision but he does not believe that this would be successful.   He asks us to delay and ask the ASE to consider the objections expressed by EN members.


Hugo Castelli says the Austrians do not seem to believe in separation of Church and State.