Inter-Orthodox Consultation on the Draft Constitutional Treaty of the European Union

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In light of the proposed European Constitution of 2004, the Orthodox Churches in Europe, along with other European churches had petitioned the European Union (EU) for the inclusion of a clause to formally recognize Europe's Christian heritage. This was done especially to safeguard that heritage and traditional Christian values from the modern threat of militant secularism.[note 1]

Although the draft text of the 2004 Constitution attempted to take these concerns into consideration, in its Preamble and in one of its Articles, nevertheless it did not specifically mention the Christian roots of Europe. The Constitution was signed in October 2004, but was ultimately rejected in referendums by France and the Netherlands in 2005.

After a two-year period, on 23 June 2007, the EU leaders agreed on a detailed mandate for a new Intergovernmental Conference whose task was to draw up a Reform Treaty by the end of 2007. Many parts of the original Constitution of 2004 were set to be included. At the European Council of Lisbon in October 2007, the Reform Treaty text was approved by all 27 EU leaders between 18-19 October, 2007. This treaty carried over the Preamble and the Article from the 2004 text dealing with the status of churches in the member states; however, once again, specific mention of Europe's Christian heritage was not included in the final text.

The official signing of the Reform Treaty by the 27 heads of states and governments took place on 13 December 2007 in Lisbon. Having later been ratified by all 27 of the EU member states, the treaty entered into force on December 1, 2009.[1]

Conclusions of the Inter-Orthodox Consultation on the Draft Constitutional Treaty of the European Union (Herakleion, Crete, 18-19 March 2003)

The undersigned representatives of European Orthodox Churches, gathered in Herakleion of Crete on the 18 and 19 of March 2003, on the invitation of His All Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch, and were hosted by the Holy Provincial Synod of the Church of Crete. The Liaison Office of the Orthodox Church to the European Union, under His Eminence, Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, was responsible for the organization of the Conference. Participants included representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Churches of Russia, Serbia, Romania, Cyprus, Greece, Poland, Albania, Czechia and Slovakia, and Finland, His Eminence Archbishop Timotheos of Crete and Metropolitans of the Church of Crete, His Excellency Professor of Constitutional Law Evangelos Venizelos, Minister of Culture of the Hellenic Republic as key-note speaker, and a number of jurists and scholars. The proceedings of the Consultation were conducted under the chairmanship of the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, His Eminence Metropolitan Meliton of Philadelphia.

The topic of the consultation was: "The stance of the European Constitution towards the Churches and Religions proposed by the Orthodox Church" as posed in the Letter of Invitation of His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos: "Hence, the agency in charge of composing and sanctioning the Constitution of Europe finds itself confronted with the need,

a) to specify its position towards the internationally recognized religions and Churches, which include the Orthodox Church;
b) to get itself or the member states of the European Union themselves to specify the criteria and the presuppositions of recognizing the rest of religions as religions and granting them or not the legal benefits that the dominant and traditional religions enjoy in the context of religious toleration, religious freedom and religious detachment of the state; and
c) the criteria of classifying the destructive or criminal organizations which pretend to be religious in the same category and the general principles of dealing with them."

The well-documented presentations, the constructive discussions and the emerging proposals confirmed the need of an Inter-Orthodox consultation on this important issue. The Conference concludes and proposes:

  1. The Constitutional Treaty should include explicit reference to Europe's Christian heritage, by means of which the principles and values of the biblical and Graeco-Roman tradition were perpetuated, which, with subsequent cultural elements constitute the foundations on which the modern European construct is founded.
  2. The safeguarding of human rights which have been recognized by European and international conventions and declarations and were codified in the Charter of the Fundamental Human Rights, must continue to constitute internal law of the European Union.
  3. Human rights must be safeguarded not only in their individual manifestation but also in the collective and institutional, such as rights and duties of the citizens of Europe: more specifically we would mention the sanctity and inviolability of the biotechnology knowledge and application, the protection of the institution of marriage and the family, and the focusing of education on the objective of these principles and values, etc.
  4. Religious freedom must be safeguarded not only as an individual human right but also as the right of traditional Churches and Religions of Europe.
  5. The 11 Declaration of the Treaty of Amsterdam on the status quo of the Churches and non-confessional religious unions must be incorporated in the Constitutional treaty to ensure that its pertinent provisions will not be violated by the legislation of the Member-States. The formulation of the relevant provision of the constitutional treaty is proposed as follows:
    "The European Union respects and does not prejudge the national law in each member state on the relation between State and Church and the internationally acknowledged principles of religious freedom for individuals and the churches."
  6. It is necessary to establish stringent criteria both in respect of the inclusion of sects in the framework of religious freedom, and of the legitimacy of their activity and their engagement in illicit proselytism within the Member – States of the union. The formulation of the pertinent provision is proposed as follows:
    "The European Union, in the same manner, respects the status quo of philosophical and non-confessional unions, and acknowledges that the non-recognition by member-states of the aforementioned philosophical and non-confessional unions of the privileges that are recognized in respect of the Churches and Religions does not contravene the principle of religious toleration."

Made in Herakleion of Crete, on 19 March 2003.[2]

Church and State

Percentage of Europeans in 2005 in each state who believe in a God. (Graphic includes candidate countries Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Turkey, as well as Iceland, Norway and Switzerland.)

Although Christianity is the largest religion in Europe, the EU is a secular body, with a separation of church and state. There are no formal ties to any religion and no mention of religion in any current or proposed treaty.

Of the Union's 27 states, only five have an official state religion, these being Cyprus (Cypriot Orthodox Church), Greece (Church of Greece), Denmark (Danish National Church), Malta (Roman Catholic Church) and England and Scotland in the UK (Church of England and Church of Scotland). Some other churches have a close relationship with the state.[3][note 2]

Threat of Secular Humanism

In 2006 the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches confronted Secular Humanism at the conference "Giving a Soul to Europe" (Vienna, May 3-5, 2006),[note 3] discussing the challenges facing Christianity, specifically materialism, consumerism, agnosticism, secularism and relativism, all based on liberal humanist ideology, constituting a real threat to Christianity today.[note 1]

In the secularising EU, the Vatican has also been vocal against a perceived "militant atheism", this being based this on a number of events, including the rejection of Christian religious references in the Constitution and Treaty of Lisbon.

Lautsi v. Italy

In another highly charged case, in November 2009 the European Court of Human Rights ruled against the use of crucifixes in classrooms in Italy, prompting a backlash from the Vatican, the Church of Greece, the Church of Russia and others;[note 4] Cardinal Walter Kasper affirmed a few days later that: "Our enemies today are not other confessions, but secularism and godlessness."[4]

On 28 January 2010, the Italian government lodged an appeal to the Grand Chamber of the Court, and by March 2010, the case was referred to Court's Grand Chamber.

As part of the proceeding the Governments of Armenia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Russian Federation, Greece, Lithuania, Malta, and the Republic of San Marino filed a joint submission as a third-party intervener in the case of Lautsi v. Italy (Application no. 30814/06) in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), arguing that: a) the cross was a symbol deeply ingrained in their respective heritages; b) that to extend the values of a secular State to the whole of Europe would represent the “Americanisation” of Europe in that a single and unique rule and a rigid separation of Church and State would be binding on everyone; and c) that the Chamber's reasoning in the earlier judgement had been based on a misunderstanding of the concept of “neutrality” with “secularism.”[note 5]

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on March 18, 2011 by a majority (15 votes to two)[5] that there was no violation of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 (the right to education) and no separate issue under Article 9 (the rights of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion) to the European Convention on Human Rights, thus upholding the display in public places of religious and cultural symbols.[6][7][note 6]

Eweida v British Airways plc

Since the November 2009 case above, cases have abounded in which the state has sided with individuals clamouring to expunge religious symbols, holidays, prayer and even Christian conscience from public life.[8] In 2012, actions by the British government elevated state-sponsored religious intolerance to a new level, as the coalition government of David Cameron declared that citizens have no right to wear a cross around their necks at work and can be required to remove their cross if ordered by the boss, resulting in dismissal if they refuse.[8] The case (Eweida v British Airways plc) has been taken to the European Court of Human Rights, which is to decide on whether the right to wear a cross is protected under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights:[9]

Article 9 states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”[9]

However the authorities insisted that since wearing the cross is not a “requirement of the faith” it does not fall under the remit of Article 9.[9] Ultimately, in January 2013 the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that British Airways violated employee Nadia Eweida's right to freedom of religion by firing her for wearing a crucifix at work, with the Strasbourg court awarding the Coptic Orthodox Christian 32,000 euros in compensation.[10][11] Nevertheless the court rejected discrimination cases by three other Christian claimants.[12][note 7]

Actual wording of the Lisbon Treaty

Predominant religions in Europe.

Article 1

The Treaty on European Union (Maastricht Treaty, 1992) shall be amended in accordance with the provisions of this Article.

1) The preamble shall be amended as follows:
(a) the following text shall be inserted as the second recital:
"‘DRAWING INSPIRATION from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe, from which have developed the universal values of the inviolable and inalienable rights of the human person, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law,’;" [13]

Article 2

The Treaty establishing the European Community (Treaties of Rome, 1957) shall be amended in accordance with the provisions of this Article.

1) The title of the Treaty shall be replaced by ‘Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union’.
30) The following new Article 16 C shall be inserted:
‘Article 16 C
1. The Union respects and does not prejudice the status under national law of churches and religious associations or communities in the Member States.
2. The Union equally respects the status under national law of philosophical and non-confessional organisations.
3. Recognising their identity and their specific contribution, the Union shall maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with these churches and organisations.’.[14]

Why no reference to God

In an official press release the Union answered various questions about the Constitution, including the reason why the reference to God was not included in the final text of the Constitution:

In some countries, the national constitution traditionally contains a reference to God. When the 'Constitution for Europe' text was being drafted and negotiated, some governments said they wanted it to include a reference to God or to the Christian tradition of the Union. Others, defending the secular nature of the State and its neutrality with regard to different religions, didn't want any specific religion to be named in the text of the European Constitution.

In its preamble, the Constitution recognises that the EU draws inspiration from Europe's cultural, religious and humanist inheritance. This wording is neutral and appropriate. Indeed, any reference to individual religions could be seen as causing division between European citizens.

In addition, Article I-52 of the Constitution obliges the Union to engage in an open, transparent and regular dialogue with churches and religious associations, just as it does with civil society.

Finally, the Charter of Fundamental Rights now enshrined in the Constitution lays down that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Article II-70).[15]


  1. 1.0 1.1 From the perspective of the Church Secular Humanism is defined as a religious philosophical worldview based on atheism, naturalism, evolution, and ethical relativism, attempting to function as a civilized society with the total exclusion of God and His moral principles. At a 2006 conference between the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches confronting Secular Humanism, Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev called in most resolute terms for an institutionalized Orthodox-Catholic alliance, without which, he said, it would not be possible to defend traditional values in Europe: "What we are witnessing is the final attack of militant secularism on the remains of Christian civilization in Europe."
    Note also that at its 50th anniversary World Humanist Congress in 2002, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) published its "Amsterdam Declaration", the defining statement of worldwide secular Humanism, embracing Humanist, atheist, rationalist, secular, skeptic, Ethical Culture, freethought and similar organisations worldwide.
  2. European countries with significant Eastern Orthodox populations are Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine, easternmost Hungary, a small minority in Southern Italy, Kazakhstan, sizable minorities in Albania, Latvia and Lithuania, small minority in Poland, and Finland (Karelia).
  3. The conference was organized jointly by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate.
  4. INTERFAX-RELIGION News. ECHR's banning of crucifix in Italian schools could destabilize Europe - Russian Church. Nov. 5, 2009.
    David Quinn (Irish Independent). The European Court of Human Rights is part of an aggressive and belligerent drive towards secularism. Nov. 6, 2009.
    National Secular Society. Gas is turned up on the battle for a secular society. Fri. Nov. 6. 2009. Cardinal Affirms Common Goals With Orthodox. Nov. 12, 2009.
    Malcolm Brabant (BBC News). Greek Church Acts on Crucifix ban. Thurs. Nov. 12, 2009.
    Taiwan news. Austrian bishops criticize Italian crucifix ruling. Nov. 13, 2009.
  5. "C. Submissions of the third-party interveners"
    "1. The Governments of Armenia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Russian Federation, Greece, Lithuania, Malta and the Republic of San Marino"
    "47. In their joint observations submitted at the hearing, the Governments of Armenia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Russian Federation, Greece, Lithuania, Malta and the Republic of San Marino indicated that in their view the Chamber's reasoning had been based on a misunderstanding of the concept of “neutrality”, which the Chamber had confused with “secularism”. They pointed out that there was a huge diversity of Church-State arrangements in Europe and that more than half the population of Europe lived in non-secular States. They added that State symbols inevitably had a place in state education and that many of these had a religious origin, the Cross – which was both a national and a religious symbol – being the most visible example. In their view, in non-secular European States the presence of religious symbols in the public space was widely tolerated by the secular population as part of national identity. States should not have to divest themselves of part of their cultural identity simply because that identity was of religious origin. The position adopted by the Chamber was not an expression of the pluralism manifest in the Convention system, but an expression of the values of a secular State. To extend it to the whole of Europe would represent the “Americanisation” of Europe in that a single and unique rule and a rigid separation of Church and State would be binding on everyone.
    In their submission, favouring secularism was a political position that, whilst respectable, was not neutral. Accordingly, in the educational sphere a State that supported the secular as opposed to the religious was not being neutral. Similarly, removing crucifixes from classrooms where they had always been would not be devoid of educational consequences. In reality, whether the State opted to allow or prohibit the presence of crucifixes in classrooms, the important factor was the degree to which the curriculum contextualised and taught children tolerance and pluralism.
    The intervening Governments acknowledged that there might be circumstances where the arrangements by the State were unacceptable. The burden of proof should remain on the individual, however, and the Court should intervene only in extreme cases."
  6. "The newly aggressive atheism promoted by the likes of Professor Richard Dawkins (like Sir Julius (Huxley), an evolutionary biologist) and the National Secular Society makes the mistake of thinking that freedom of religion and freedom from religion require secularism. But they are not the same thing; secularism is optional, but freedom to practise any religion, or none, is a human right (something the European Court of Human Rights upheld, incidentally, in the case of Lautsi v. Italy last year). Whether or not one is religious, these tiresome attempts to marginalise Christianity ought to be resisted."
    • Andrew McKie. "Resist these attempts to marginalise Christianity." The Herald (Glasgow). February 13, 2012. Section: HS, p. 13.
  7. "While European Dignity Watch applauds the finding of a violation of Article 9 in the Eweida case, the reasoning of the majority of the judges in the three other cases has marked a new step in the discrimination against Christians who act according to their consciences or wear a non-controversial sign of their faith."


  1. ZENIT: The World Seen from Rome. EUROPEAN BISHOPS PRAISE UNION'S NEW TREATY: Says Debate Over Christian Roots Is Not Over. October 21, 2007.
  2. Russian Orthodox Church Representation to the European Institutions. Conclusions of the Inter-Orthodox Consultation on the Draft Constitutional Treaty of the European Union (Herakleion, Crete, 18–19 March 2003). (
  3. Ferrari, Silvio. "Silvio Ferrari on “Church and State in Europe”". Concordat Watch.
  4. Cardinal Affirms Common Goals With Orthodox.” Nov. 12, 2009.
  5. Crucifixes in Italian State-school classrooms: the Court finds no violation. European Court of Human Rights: Press Releases. No. 234, 18.03.2011.
  6. European Court of Human Rights. JUDGMENT: CASE OF LAUTSI AND OTHERS v. ITALY; (Application no. 30814/06). STRASBOURG, 18 March 2011.
  7. Roper, Marie Elizabeth. "Secular crosses and the neutrality of secularism: reflections on the demands of neutrality and its consequences for religious symbols - the European Court of Human Rights in Lautsi and the U.S. Supreme Court in Salazar." Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law. Vol. 45 No. 3, Pg. 841(38). ISSN: 0090-2594. May 1, 2012.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Insult to the cross. Catholic Register. 13 March 2012 16:07.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 UK denies Christians right to wear crucifix. The European Union Times. Mar 13th, 2012.
  10. Crucifix Battle: British Airways to pay 32,000 euro after sacking woman for wearing cross. 15 January, 2013, 20:23.
  11. Christian employee discriminated against for wearing crucifix, court rules. Toronto Star (AP). January 15, 2013.
  12. 'Obsessive Political Correctness' Trumps Freedom of Conscience. ZENIT: The World Seen From Rome. 2013-01-16.
  13. C 306/10. EN. Official Journal of the European Union. 17.12.2007.
  14. C 306/51. EN. Official Journal of the European Union. 17.12.2007.
  15. EUROPA Rapid Press Releases. Questions & answers on the Constitution.

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