March 18, 2019 Staff

Religious Minorities Offer Social Capital But Face Discrimination

minorities have much to offer society, but they often struggle against various
forms of discrimination, according to a joint report published Feb. 4 by the
Conference of European Churches (CEC) and

“While CEC is
convinced that minorities bring an added value to societies, sometimes
governments do not see that, but treat them as threat to national security,”
the report said. “Quite often, state officials lack religious literacy and have
not yet developed a deeper understanding of the benefits that can spring from
creating space for religious minorities to flourish.”

In many places
across Europe and beyond, religious minorities face expressions of hostility
from religious majorities and governments in the form of social ostracism,
restrictions on religious expression, confiscation or demolition of property
and lack of legal status.

The report
compiles and adapts reports and discussions that were part of a conference
titled “Religious Minorities as Part of Culturally Diverse Societies,” held in
Croatia in October 2016.

A legal
framework for religious minorities is provided, along with three reflections on
religious equality, including one from Tony Peck, general secretary of the
European Baptist Federation (EBF).

Baptists “believe
in the essential separation of church and state, though not a separation from a
full engagement with society,” he said.

Citing Thomas
Helwys’ plea in 1612 for religious freedom that was “inclusive of all the known
religious groups of the time,” Peck noted “this conviction that the state
should allow religious freedom for all has become part of the DNA of Baptists.”

Nevertheless, “Baptists
themselves have been subject to pressure, discrimination and even persecution
in their history and this would be true of the beginning of most European
Baptist Unions,” he explained. “The difficulties we sometime encounter with
religious freedom are often a combination of issues to do with relating to the
state and to majority or state churches.”

Concluding the publication
are five case studies from Austria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary and Spain, which
provide insights into ongoing challenges facing religious minorities and
constructive practices for promoting and protecting religious liberty for all.

The report,
“Religious Diversity in Europe and the Rights of Religious Minorities,” was
edited by Elizabeta Kitanovic, executive secretary for human rights at CEC, and
Patrick Roger Schnabel, head of the church development service of the
Protestant Church Berlin-Brandenburg-Upper Lusatia (EKBO), and is available here.