Summer School on Human Rights tackles freedom of expression in the time of rising populism

Press Release No: 19/16
20 June 2019

The 6th Summer School on Human Rights of the Conference of European Churches took place from 17 to 20 June in Lisbon, Portugal. In cooperation with the Portuguese Christian Council of Churches (COPIC), some 50 participants from different national, ethnic and religious backgrounds were given an opportunity to study together and receive interdisciplinary training on freedom of expression, hate speech, hate crime and how to prevent incitement to hatred in religious contexts.

The discussion was inspired by the biblical premise “Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him, who is the head, that is, Christ,” Ephesians 4:15-17.

The participants looked into the relation between a growing lack of respect of other people in communication, especially in the so called social media, and the rise of political populism on a global scale. The participants were also informed about religion-state relations in Portugal, in particular the cooperation between church and state in receiving and integrating migrants in Portuguese society.

Committed to “truth in love” churches in Europe are committed to stand up for the fundamental right to freedom of expression and to stand up against hate speech. They call upon all relevant actors in society to engage in public discourse and debate in a way that underlines our common humanity and enhances the human dignity of every individual. They emphasise the need for informed and fact-based dialogue, reflecting, in the search for adequate solutions, the complexity of political and other issues.

During the Summer School, speakers and participants expressed concern that populists encourage or use “hate speech” to steer one group against another, with a view to attain a relevant amount of votes rather than contribute to societal peace and political compromise. Xenophobic attitudes, stigmatization of minorities, stereotyping on the basis of race, colour, national and ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender or sexual orientation lead to hatred and can ultimately result in violence. Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and Christianophobia are expressions of such attitudes, but they are not limited to religious groups, but also affect others such as “refugees” in general or Roma and other minority groups.

While freedom of expression is an important right, and obviously includes the right to disagree or to express dislike, the way we speak about other people has both moral and legal limits. As Article 20 (2) of the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states: “Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.” Morally, it is important to make a difference between the person and the opinion. While the person always deserves respect, difference of opinion must be expressed and discussed.

Speakers included Mr Pedro Calado, the High Commissioner for Migration in Portugal, Ms Tatjana Perić, Adviser on Combating Racism and Xenophobia with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Prof. Dr Jónatas Machado of the Human Rights Centre at the University of Coimbra, as well as experts from Muslim and Jewish organisations.

The President of COPIC, H.E. Bishop Jorge Pina Cabral, emphasised, “This is a great opportunity to strengthen the links among different churches in Portugal by reflecting on common issues and challenges that we are facing in Portuguese society. Learning about, and from each other, and studying together is the natural Christian way to combat hatred in all forms.”

The President of CEC, Rev. Christian Krieger said, “In a time of rising populism, combating the spread of hate speech and hatred on the basis of religion or belief is a responsibility that each and all of us need to take on. The Conference of European Churches it committed to do so, within its own membership and in the partnership with other relevant stakeholders.”

For more information or an interview, please contact:

Naveen Qayyum
Communication Assistant
Conference of European Churches
Rue Joseph II, 174 B-1000 Brussels
Tel. +32 2 234 68 42
Fax +32 2 231 14 13
Twitter: @ceceurope

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