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4th Mar 2024

Catholics alarmed by EU equal rights law

  • St Peter's church: the bishops fear minority groups could use the law to stir resentment (Photo: flip.and.serena)

Atheists could attack galleries for showing religious art and witches could claim the right to use church halls under a draft EU equal rights law, the Roman Catholic church has warned.

The EU bill aims to curtail discrimination on grounds of religion, disability, age or sexual preference in social situations not covered by existing labour law, such as renting properties.

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The directive could enter into force in 2011 if member states give unanimous approval in discussions planned for November by the Swedish EU presidency.

The criticism was put forward in recent days by the Roman Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales as part of a British government consultation procedure.

The bishops' group "commends" the EU effort to protect "the innate dignity of every person."

But it calls for the legal text to soften a clause against creating an "offensive environment" and to add an exemption to let religious organisations "function in accordance with [their] ethos."

"There is a risk that practical implementation may effectively turn the directive into an instrument of oppression against one or other group," the church paper, signed by bishops' conference general secretary Monsignor Andrew Summersgill, says.

"Homosexual groups ...may declare themselves offended by the presentation of the Catholic Church's moral teaching on homosexual acts; Catholics may declare themselves offended by a 'Gay Pride' march; an atheist may be offended by religious pictures in an art gallery."

"It is not clear whether [the bill] would apply to the activities of a Catholic priest, if, as recently occurred, he were to refuse to take a booking for a Church Hall from a group of witches," it adds.

The European Parliament passed the draft law in April by 363 votes against 226. Left-leaning and liberal MEPs championed the bill. But centre-right deputies said it will create too much red tape.

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