Security is becoming a leading concern in European state policy, while the right of religious freedom is coming under increasing pressure, Prof. Riks Torfs (Leuven University, Belgium) writes in the recently published volume 9 of the European Journal for Church and State Research.
Controversies surrounding new religious movements in some European States, as well as the issue of religious fundamentalism in the post-9/11 environment, have led to an awareness of the “dangerous aspects of the previously inviolable right of religious freedom,” he writes. More broadly, Torfs observes a trend toward a much more active state policy in regard to religion than anybody in the West would have imagined only 20 years ago.
In itself, this development is quite remarkable. While religion is still considered a private matter, it now seems that religious choices indeed have consequences. Moreover, political leaders who had come to see religion as history suddenly realize that new chapters are being written, not necessarily in the form of “enlightened Christianity.” But the issue will be which type of active religious policy Western states are likely to develop.
In France, one can see attempts to exclude religion from the public square, which Torfs sees as dangerous from the security angle as well. If reality should be reduced to visibility, one would no longer see what is really happening once religion is compelled to become invisible. Other countries, however, will likely follow the path of a dialogue between the neutrality of the state and the identities of its citizens, including religious ones. This might be — according to Torfs — the future Belgian approach (inductive, instead of starting from abstract, ideological principles).
However, Torfs warns, some states might be tempted to choose a third way in the future, attempting to influence religious concepts and to promote views most compatible with democratic principles and human rights. In the current security environment, it is not an unlikely policy, leading to more subtle forms of intervention, Torfs concludes.
(European Journal for Church and State Research, c/o Peeters Publishing, Bondgenotenlaan 153, 3000 Leuven, Belgium, http://www.peeters-leuven.be)
— By Jean-Francois Mayer