The Conference of European Churches (CEC) contributed to the discussion on religious freedom in sharp focus at the presentation of the Third Ecumenical Report on religious freedom worldwide - A Christian focus on a special human right published by the Protestant Church in Germany (EKD) and the German Bishops’ Conference. The event was held on 25 October at the EKD office in Brussels.
The report is launched in the context of a global rise in populism and authoritarian rule, making it increasingly difficult for faith communities to freely exercise their religion. Christians, as a largest religious group worldwide, are not an exception to the trend. Therefore, the report delves deep into the state of freedom of religion for Christians worldwide.
Dr Elizabeta Kitanovic, CEC Programme Officer for Advocacy and Dialogue, joined the panel with Frans van Daele, Special Envoy for the protection and promotion of religious freedom outside the EU, and Church Counsel Rev. Dr Patrick Roger Schnabel, co-chair of the ecumenical committee responsible for the report and one of its authors.
Kitanovic stressed the importance of the office of the Special Envoy for freedom of religion. “The EU is a community of values, and freedom of religion or belief is one of the fundamental human rights, closely connected to human dignity. We must be aware that the situation of religious communities is often an indicator of the way the rule of law and democracy develops in a country.”
“Churches do a lot of ecumenical work in this area, but they need the political and diplomatic support of the EU when dealing with conflicts,” she added.
“It is worth pointing out that while churches defend the right to religious freedom, they are inspired by respect for the dignity of every person,” said Senior Church Counsel Katrin Hatzinger and head of the EKD EU Brussels office. “Following the logic of the universality of civil rights and liberties, churches’ commitment to the freedom of religion and belief seeks to benefit all people.”
“Religious freedom has two sides. It supports every individual’s personal choices related to religion or belief, and it also enables religious communities to become engaged in society,” emphasised Dr Patrick Schnabel in his introduction to the key conclusions from the report. “Only if this freedom is guaranteed, religions can make their important and indispensable contribution to social cohesion.”
He went on to say, “Unfortunately, media attention often focuses on religious actors being instrumentalised in conflicts, but often religious communities play a key role in processes of peace and reconciliation.” Among such efforts from churches, he highlighted CEC’s initiative Pathways to Peace, which facilitates peacebuilding with a focus on the war in Ukraine.