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Discrimination Against Humanists.

Slovakia's record on freedom of religion and belief falls seriously short of international human rights standards. It therefore merits intense scrutiny as this Eastern European republic and five other nations--Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, and Romania--seek membership in the European Union.

There is no doubt that Slovakia is founded on sound principles promoting the creation of a pluralist democratic state. Consider the following from its constitution:

* Article 1 declares the republic a sovereign, democratic state that is "not linked to any ideology, nor religion."

* Article 11 assures that international treaties on human rights and fundamental freedoms that are ratified by Slovakia will take precedence over national laws.

* Article 24 guarantees the freedom of thought, conscience, and religious creed and belief and expressly states: "Everybody has the right to be without religious allegiance. Everybody has the right to manifest his/her persuasion in public."

In addition, since 1993 Slovakia has agreed to be bound by a number of international agreements whose adherence is required for EU membership. The republic has either ratified or accepted the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), and the UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief (1981). It has also agreed to be bound by European instruments such as the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1950) and the Declaration of European Parliament about Fundamental Rights and Freedoms (1989).

However, in practice, the Slovakian government has paid scant heed to its sovereign obligations under these agreements or to its own constitutional dictates. This has led to a steady erosion of the government's neutrality in matters of faith and belief.

For example, in 1997 the president of Slovakia officially dedicated the republic to the "Holy Virgin Mary." The current law governing the relationship between church and state favors the church. Meanwhile, Slovakia is considering a treaty with the Vatican that would regulate the advantageous position of the Roman Catholic church in Slovak society. And the Roman Catholic church is attempting to establish schools that are completely financed by the state but administered exclusively by church authorities.

Since 1991 Prometheus Society Slovakia has been highlighting many developments that are damaging to internationally accepted human rights standards. This International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) member organization has specifically pointed to Slovakia's discrimination against humanists and others who do not profess any religious belief, whose life philosophy is based on a naturalistic understanding of the universe, or whose ethics are grounded in secular human values. Humanists in Slovakia constitute 30 percent of the population but do not receive any state support for the promotion of their life stance--unlike churches, which receive generous support.

In an attempt to redress the situation, Prometheus Society has called on the government to implement the following measures to achieve parity in the treatment of its citizens:

* Create a special office at Slovakia's Ministry of Culture to address the needs of nonreligious citizens, just as there is such an office that caters to churches.

* Institutionalize the position of secular counselors in Slovakia's army, just as there are religious counselors.

* Provide content and air time on radio and television--which are public corporations--that reflect the plurality of beliefs in Slovakia.

However, more than forty requests to government and top constitutional officers since 1991 have failed to bring about equity for the spiritual and cultural needs of humanists. Ongoing developments make it even more difficult for humanists to profess their beliefs or to work for the promotion of their life philosophy. They are denied their legitimate right to state support and public financing and live under a government policy hostile to their beliefs--regardless of all anti-discriminatory laws in force.

Since approaching the national government has not resulted in a satisfactory response, Prometheus Society has contacted the European Union directly--both President Romano Prodi and Vice-President Loyola de Palacio. It hopes the EU will consider the human rights abuses against humanists before accepting Slovakia's membership. Prometheus Society has also contacted EU member states in hopes of receiving support for the protection of humanist human rights in Slovakia.

The IHEU is supporting this effort by highlighting the problem at the Council of Europe and appealing to the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief and to the Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief. If necessary, it will take the problem to the European Court of Human Rights.

The demands for parity being made by humanists in Slovakia are the minimum for all civilized societies. The foundation has been laid. As the EU considers Slovakia's membership, there is an opportunity to ensure that these basic non-discriminatory standards of human rights are implemented through adequate, concrete steps.

Babu Gogineni is executive director of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, the international umbrella organization for eighty-two humanist, rationalist, atheist, skeptic, agnostic, and Ethical Culture groups from thirty-seven countries. The IHEU is a non-governmental organization of the United Nations and the Council of Europe.
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Author:Gogineni, Babu
Publication:The Humanist
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EXSV
Date:May 1, 2000
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