Press Release No: 14/21
26 July 2021
Freedom of religion or belief is a fundamental human right. It encompasses the right to publicly exercise one’s religion, including the possibility to dedicate special places – churches, synagogues, mosques, cemeteries and other holy sites – to religious and cultic purposes. Since such sites are increasingly under threat in Europe and beyond, the Conference of European Churches (CEC) addressed this critical issue in its online Summer School on Human Rights from 20 – 23 July 2021.
The event prepared by CEC’s Thematic Group on Human Rights explored how places of worship are targeted by intolerance and hatred, even violence and destruction, putting religious freedom at stake. The Summer School highlighted that believers must be able to visit and worship at such sites, and that state and society are obliged to protect their rights.
“In our church buildings we celebrate the life given to us by the Creator,” said Bishop Petra Bosse-Huber of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) , this year’s cooperation partner for CEC’s annual Summer School. She emphasised that the issue of religious freedom needs to be perceived beyond one’s own denomination and religion.
CEC Vice-President Metropolitan Cleopas of Sweden and All Scandinavia added an Orthodox perspective. “Our sacred places of worship house the life-giving Sacrament of Holy Communion and serve as the stage for the celebration of the divine drama and bloodless sacrifice that commemorates Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross during every Divine Liturgy.”
“All religious communities are vulnerable to attacks,” said Andrea Volkmer, a lawyer and police officer from the Ministry of Interior Germany. “We need to stand together and work together to be prepared and better protect worshippers and religious sites. The EU stands ready to support and foster the cooperation and the dialogue between different religions and with authorities, especially with law enforcement,” she added.
Ophir Revach, CEO of Security and Crisis Center by the European Jewish Congress, stated how “religious communities share similar security challenges with human rights violations as consequences.” He said that “religious communities need to stay in solidarity in sharing the knowledge and experience to combat possible threats and challenges.”
During the Summer School, case studies on vandalism, attacks and destruction were presented from Armenia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Kosovo, Sweden Turkey, UK and Vatican.
The speakers agreed that attacks on places of worship provoke and feed ongoing disputes, create lasting prejudice, and give rise to hatred. They emphasised that such places are part of the common cultural heritage of humanity, not only part of a specific tradition. Also, they deserve special attention and protection, not only from a human rights’ perspective.
As part of the Safer and Stronger Communities in Europe (SASCE) project , the Summer School builds capacities within religious communities. SASCE is a European Commission funded project, on which CEC works together with other religious European organisations.
The Summer School conducted a training for community members and leaders, highlighting the important task of the state to offer protection to religious communities, including precautionary measures – especially in contexts where threats are already tangible.
Similar to previous years, a training was conducted on reporting hate crime using mechanisms from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and SASCE.
An interfaith Guide for Law Enforcement was presented as part of the SASCE project.
Presentations from the Summer School webinars will be made available on CEC website.
For more information or an interview, please contact:
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