As we climbed the red-carpeted steps to enter the Parliamentary Palace in Bucharest, Romania, I had no inkling of the shocking realities I would learn about inside.
Along with other delegates to a symposium on the freedom of conscience and faith, I passed through the security check to enter a cavernous lobby with marble pllars, crystal chandeliers, expansive carpets and another red-carpeted stairway leading to the next of 12 floors.
We were led into the Human Rights Hall, furnished with curtains embroidered in silver and gold, and huge crystal chandelier, one of hundreds in the palace, hanging overhead. An inlaid wooden circular table filled the hall, displaying name cards for the sixty participants,.
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the palace is the world’s largest, heaviest and most expensive civilian administrative building. It is a monument to a megalomanic, the former Romanian dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, who robbed his country to fulfil his dream. Local materials used in construction of the palace include one million cubic meters of marble, 3,500 tonnes of crystal and 20 hectare(!) of woollen carpets woven on the spot.
To construct the palace, Ceausescu demolished the heart of Bucharest’s historic district, including 19 Orthodox Christian churches, six Jewish synagogues, three Protestant churches, and 30,000 residences.
But Ceausescu himself never lived to see its completion. Romanians celebrated both the execution of a tyrant and the birth of a Saviour on Christmas Day 1989.
However, the most shocking revelations for me that day were not about the callous actions of a Romanian despot.They involved disturbing decisions by judges, politicians and officials in western Europe, threatening religious liberties and demolishing the rights to freedom of conscience for parents and individuals in countries like England and Germany. They involved the deceptive demands of western EU officials for aspirant members to the EU.
The freedoms of democracy and the rule of law fought for in Romania in 1989 were again at stake, I learned, not at the hands of a communist dictator, but from much more insidious and apparently-benign agencies within the European Institutions; exactly what Os Guinness had been warning about in our last weekly word.
Roger Kiska, prevented by sickness from speaking, sent a paper to be read at the symposium. Kiska is a legal counsel based in Bratislava, Slovak Republic, a specialist in international litigation with a focus on European law. In his view, these European institutions want to use Romania as a new member state still unsure of its place in Europe to quickly implement radical legislation not yet enacted in the west. A cold war of social policy was being waged under our noses, he warned us.
Serbia, Croatia and Moldovia had also been pressured by empty promises of easier access to European Union candidacy by radically changing their non-discrimination laws to protect ‘sexual orientation’.
Hate-speech laws, non-discrimination laws and attacks on parental rights were the three chief threats he saw facing religious liberty in Europe today. Freedom of thought, conscience and religion is guaranteed by the European Convention of Human Rights as one of the cornerstones of a democratic society. State interference with the practice of those religious and philosophical convictions violates Article 9.
Yet the recent proliferation of ‘hate speech’ laws contradict the protection of freedom of speech. Freedom of religion is emptied of its value without freedom of expression.
From Kiska and others, we heard case after case where such freedoms were being violated; the consciences, for example, of parents currently in prison in Germany for refusing to allow their pre-teen children to be exposed to radical secular values on sexuality.
Cases from Sweden, Spain, Italy and England were presented, demonstrating that freedoms of conscience, belief and expression were being trampled on in the name of ‘equal treatment’.
Interestingly, while we were meeting in the palace in Bucharest, a Dutch court acquitted Geert Wilders of ‘hate speech‘ crimes. We may not agree with his beliefs or his coarse way of saying things, but we do need to uphold his right to freedom of expression.
As Kiska concluded, we must reclaim what we have lost; protect what we have; and shape a future where religious freedom will be protected and affirmed!
Till next week,