The religious dimension of intercultural dialogue
- Parliamentary Assembly
debate on 12 April 2011 (12th and 13th Sittings) (see Doc. 12553, report
of the Committee on Culture, Science and Education, rapporteur:
Ms Brasseur; and Doc.
12576, opinion of the Political Affairs Committee, rapporteur:
Mr Toshev). Text adopted by the Assembly on 12 April 2011 (13th Sitting).
1 The Parliamentary Assembly notes
the growing interest in questions relating to intercultural dialogue
in a European and global context where efforts to establish closer
ties and collaboration between communities within our societies
and between peoples, to build together for the common good, are
constantly imperilled by lack of understanding, high tension and
even barbarous acts of hatred and violence.
2 The Assembly welcomes the positive momentum that is developing
within the Council of Europe, and which is conducive to an approach
mainstreaming the questions relating to intercultural dialogue and
its religious dimension. The White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue
– Living together as equals in dignity and the annual exchanges
organised by the Committee of Ministers on “The religious dimension
of intercultural dialogue” represent, in a way, the highest achievement
of this approach.
3 Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“the
Convention”, ETS No. 5) secures the right to freedom of thought,
conscience and religion. This freedom represents one of the foundations
of a “democratic society” within the meaning of the Convention;
it is, in its religious dimension, one of the most vital elements
of believers’ identity and their conception of life, but is also
a precious asset for atheists, agnostics, sceptics or the unconcerned.
4 Assertion of this inalienable right presupposes that all people
are free to have (or not to have) a religion and to manifest their
religion, either alone and in private or collectively in public
and within the circle of those whose faith they share. In Europe,
churches and religious communities have the right to exist and to
organise themselves independently. Nevertheless, freedom of religion
and freedom to have a philosophical or secular world view are inseparable
from unreserved acceptance, by everyone, of the fundamental values
enshrined in the Convention.
5 These values should bring us together, but it is also important
to acknowledge the cultural differences that exist between people
of different convictions. Differences, as long as they are compatible
with respect for human rights and the principles that underpin democracy,
not only have every right to exist but also help determine the essence
of our plural societies.
6 The European model is by definition a multicultural one and
it should take into account differences arising from various historical
backgrounds. However, common values such as mutual respect, the
protection of fundamental rights, democracy, tolerance, the acceptance
that differences are normal and the vision of a common future need
to be strengthened further.
7 The problem often lies in our attitude to diversity. The Assembly
insists on the need for everyone to learn to share their differences
positively and accept others, with their differences, in order to
build cohesive societies that are receptive to diversity and respect
the dignity of each individual. To achieve this, the Assembly is
convinced of the importance of the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue,
and of collaboration between religious communities to foster the
values that make up the common core of our European societies and
of any democratic society.
8 The Assembly considers it not only desirable, but necessary,
that the various churches and religious communities – in particular
Christians, Jews and Muslims – recognise each other’s right to freedom
of religion and belief. It is also indispensable that people of
all beliefs and world views, religious or otherwise, accept to intensify dialogue
based on the common assertion of equal dignity for all and a wholehearted
commitment to democratic principles and human rights. These are
two crucial conditions for developing a new culture of living together. The Assembly therefore calls upon
all churches and religious communities to persevere in their endeavours
for dialogue, including with humanist movements, in order to work
in unison to attain the goal of effectively safeguarding these values
everywhere, throughout Europe and worldwide.
9 States have to establish the necessary conditions for religious
and convictional pluralism and to ensure effective respect for freedom
of thought, conscience and religion, as guaranteed by Article 9
of the Convention.
10 The Assembly recalls in this connection states’ obligation
to ensure that all religious communities accepting common fundamental
values can enjoy an appropriate legal status guaranteeing the exercise
of freedom of religion, and that any preferential support granted
to certain religions does not become disproportionate and discriminatory
in practice. States must also reconcile the rights of religious
communities with the need to protect the rights of persons with
no religious beliefs who adhere to these fundamental values.
11 The Assembly considers it necessary to build up a dynamic,
productive partnership between the public institutions, the religious
communities and the groups that espouse a non-religious perception.
The common starting point for this is the acknowledgement by the
various religious denominations and by non-religious belief systems
that human dignity is an essential and universal asset.
12 The Assembly therefore recommends that the public authorities
at local and national levels facilitate encounters organised in
the framework of inter-religious dialogue and encourage and support
projects jointly conducted by several communities, including humanist and
non-religious associations, that seek to consolidate social bonds
by such means as the promotion of inter-community solidarity, care
for the most vulnerable and the fight against discrimination.
13 The Assembly reiterates the importance and the function of
the education system for knowledge and understanding of the various
cultures, including the beliefs and convictions which identify them,
and for the learning of democratic values and respect for human rights.
It recommends that states and religious communities review together,
on the basis of the guidelines provided by the Council of Europe,
the questions regarding teaching on religions, denominational education,
and training of teachers and of religious ministers or those with
religious responsibilities, according to a holistic approach.
14 The Assembly emphasises that the principle of state neutrality
applies to religious education at school and that, according to
the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, it rests with
the national authorities to pay strict attention that parents’ religious
and non-religious convictions are not offended.
15 In the Assembly’s view, the challenge today is to reach the
agreement and the balance necessary in order that teaching on religions
provides an opportunity for encounters and for mutual receptiveness.
It recommends that state authorities and religious communities make concerted
efforts in that direction and invites states to commit the resources
required so that statements lead to achievements on the ground.
It would be highly advisable that every teacher, irrespective of
type and branch of education, take a module during training that
familiarises him or her with the major currents of thought.
The Assembly recalls that the internal autonomy of religious
institutions as regards training of those with religious responsibilities
is a principle inherent in freedom of religion. Nevertheless, this
autonomy is limited by fundamental rights, democratic principles
and the rule of law, which we hold in common. Therefore, the Assembly invites
the religious institutions and leaders to study, if possible together
and in the framework of inter-religious dialogue, the appropriate
way to better train the holders of religious responsibilities in:
16.1 knowledge and understanding
of other religions and convictions, as well as in openness, dialogue
and collaboration between religious communities;
16.2 respect for fundamental rights, democratic principles
and the rule of law, as a common basis for such dialogue and collaboration.
The Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers:
17.1 promote a genuine partnership
for democracy and human rights between the Council of Europe, the
religious institutions and humanist and non-religious organisations, seeking
to encourage the active involvement of all stakeholders in actions
to promote the fundamental values of the Organisation;
17.2 establish to this end a place for dialogue, a workspace
for the Council of Europe and high-level representatives of religions
and of non-denominational organisations, in order to place existing
relations on a stable and formally recognised platform;
17.3 develop this initiative in concertation with the interested
parties, closely associate the Parliamentary Assembly and, as far
as possible, the European Union, and invite the United Nations Alliance
of Civilizations and, if appropriate, other partners to contribute;
17.4 continue, in this context, organising dedicated meetings
on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue.
The Assembly further recommends that the Committee of Ministers:
18.1 promote the accession of the
Mediterranean Basin states to the European Commission for Democracy through
Law (Venice Commission), the Partial Agreement on Youth Mobility
through the Youth Card and the European Centre for Global Interdependence
and Solidarity (North-South Centre);
18.2 invite all member states to support any targeted project
that the North-South Centre may conduct in order to amplify the
positive forces at work in the religious dimension of intercultural
dialogue beyond the boundaries of the European continent, at the
inter-regional and/or global levels;
18.3 increase the resources allocated to the project on intercultural
cities, in which the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue
should be explicitly incorporated;
18.4 offer more support for the work of the European Wergeland
Centre in Oslo, particularly for building its capacity to collaborate
with the Council of Europe member states on projects concerning
the intercultural and inter-religious dimension of training for
teachers and educators.
19 The Assembly invites the European Union, in particular the
European Parliament and the European Commission, together with its
Agency for Fundamental Rights, to engage in joint programmes with
the Council of Europe on education for democratic citizenship and human
rights education, with reference to the Charter which the Committee
of Ministers adopted on 11 May 2010 (Recommendation CM/Rec(2010)7),
and on intercultural and inter-religious dialogue.
20 The Assembly invites the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations
to deploy joint programmes with the Council of Europe aimed at increasing
the synergies in their respective action in Europe.