On the day that the Netherlands vote for the States Provincial, a Dutch politician in another layer of politics – the European Parliament – displays her unique concept of religious freedom. By opposing a theoretical visit of the pope to the Europarliament.
MP Sophie in ‘t Veld, leader of the D66 fraction (part of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe political group) ,was alerted by a Dutch priest on Twitter about the audience that Europarliament President Jerzy Buzek had with Pope Benedict three days ago. Buzek apparently issued an invitation to the pope to come and address the parliament some time.
MP In ‘t Veld responded today to that invitation, which has not yet received an official response (if it ever will), in the following words:
“A parliament meeting is a session in which substantial decisions are made for five hundred million Europeans, regardless of their convictions, faith or religion. It is inappropriate if this official meeting would be used as a stage for religious message.”
In ‘t Veld continues by assuring us that it is not about the pope:
“The European Parliament is a place for every possible opinion, faith or religion. But religious freedom is not a collective right, but a private matter.”
So what she actually seems to say here – ignoring for now that those two sentences are in apparent contradiction to each other – is that freedom of religion is only a right for individuals, not for groups of people. It is also a right that assumes that those who have it never share their religion, faith or opinion – as if these things are the same or even similar – in public. That is a reading of this particular constitutional freedom which can be backed by exactly nothing. Freedom of religion, in the first place, protects the citizen’s right to live according to their faith without fear of persecution. It has nothing to say about religious leaders addressing politicians.
What In ‘t Veld may think she means is that this is a transgression of the separation between church and state. But that, too, is incorrect. The separation between church and state protects the rights and duties of both. Again, it says nothing about mere communication between them. In fact, communication and equal standing seems to have been assumed and intended by James Madison, when he said: “practical distinction between Religion and Civil Government is essential to the purity of both” in an 1811 letter. The separation of church and state limits the level of interference the one can have in the other. An address by a religious leader is of course nothing of the sort.
As an aside, I wonder what In ‘t Veld made of the visit of the Dalai Lama to the European Parliament in 2008…
Photo credit:  REUTERS/Andrew Medichini/Pool