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Freedom of religion 'without impediment and without discrimination'

Religious communities should be able to exercise the right to freedom of religion “without impediment and without discrimination” and to practise their faith publicly and freely in accordance with their own rites, said PACE, which is concerned about the tensions generated in Europe by the development of many beliefs and churches.

The Assembly noted that certain religious practices remained controversial within national communities and underlined that the wearing of full-face veils, circumcision of young boys and ritual slaughter were divisive issues.

Where circumcision of young boys is concerned, the Assembly stressed that “the child’s interest must be considered the first priority” and recommended that it must be practised by “a person with the requisite training and skill, in appropriate medical and health conditions”. The resolution adopted today, on the basis of a report by Rafael Huseynov (Azerbaijan, ALDE), states that the parents must be informed of any potential medical risk or possible contraindications and take these into account.

Moreover, the parliamentarians believe that legislation prohibiting ritual slaughter is not really necessary, or the most effective way of ensuring the protection of animals. The resolution mentions the example of France and Germany, where legislation which imposes strict requirements reconciles the concern to protect animals from unjustified suffering with respect for the right to freedom of religion.

In addition, the Assembly called on states to seek “reasonable accommodations” for controversial religious practices, in particular in the workplace, the aim being to guarantee effective equality in the right to freedom of religion.

The parliamentarians also underlined that “education is the key to combating ignorance”, breaking down stereotypes, building mutual respect and promoting support for the values of “living together”. They called for “secularity of recognition” and for religious organisations to be treated as partners in the development of inclusive societies, while respecting the principle of the independence of politics from religion.

Lastly, PACE recommended that the Committee of Ministers set up a “platform for dialogue between the Council of Europe and senior representatives of religions and non-denominational organisations” to promote the values which underpin “living together”.