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Brussels, Belgium
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe confirmed the separation of church and state as one of Europe’s shared values
On 29 June the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted a recommendation entitled “State, religion, secularity and human rights”. The recommendation can be summarized as follows: While noting that religion is an important feature in European society, the Assembly reaffirms the principle of separation of church and state as one of Europe’s shared values.

However, as a result of a last-minute amendment, the Assembly also notes that “the European Court of Human Rights recognises the right of individual countries to organise and enact legislation regarding the relationship between the State and the churches”.

The Recommendation also reiterates that while freedom of religion is protected by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), it is not unlimited: a religion whose doctrine or practice runs counter to other fundamental rights would be unacceptable. Another last-minute amendment completes this statement by adding that any restriction to freedom of religion must, however, be prescribed by law and necessary in a democratic society in the interest of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others (Art 9.2 of the ECHR).

Whereas inter-religious and interdenominational dialogue are not matters for states or for the Council of Europe, the Assembly recognises the importance of intercultural dialogue and its religious dimension. Furthermore, it endorses the practice of inviting religious leaders to address the Assembly and, in return, attending major conferences organised by the religious communities. It also recalls that dozens of religious and humanist organisations (CSC/CEC is one of them) are already represented in the Council of Europe by virtue of the participatory status of non-governmental organisations.

The recommendation also welcomes the Committee of Ministers’ earlier proposal, that “annual exchanges on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue” be organised on an experimental basis with representatives of religions traditionally present in Europe and of civil society. The President of the PACE, Mr René van der Linden – one of the political figures who will be present at the Third European Ecumenical Assembly in Sibiu – has strongly advocated for the setting-up of new structures for organised religions, but these proposals were not endorsed in the Assembly’s recommendation. The CSC Strasbourg office continues to monitor closely the setting-up of the first meeting of “annual exchanges”, due to take place in 2008.

Recommendation 1804 (2007) on State, religion, secularity and human rights:

Source: CSC Update on European Affairs N ° 10, 7/2007, Brussels/Belgium