Written by Paul Coleman, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom at its office in Vienna, Austria.
Religious Liberty is in peril worldwide. This blog post, the last in a series of commentaries, illustrates the increasing marginalization of Christianity in Europe.
In recent blog posts, European privatization in regards to the pulpits, private conversations, and work places was discussed. Privatization can be described as the division between religious belief and religious practice. In Europe, people are told that they are able to believe whatever they want, but cannot act on those beliefs in public.
In addition to being privatized in personal relations and in the workplace, Christianity is being privatized in the marketplace. Although this is a relatively new development, several European countries have now passed laws making it unlawful to discriminate in the provision of goods or services.
In the Netherlands, following amendments to the Equal Treatment Act, a company was sued for refusing to make bath towels that advertised an organization which promoted homosexual behavior. The company had made it clear on its website that it would not do any work that it considered blasphemous or offensive to the morals of the company. Although the company eventually won its case, business owners in the United Kingdom have been less successful.
Following the introduction of various pieces of anti-discrimination legislation—which, among other things, prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation—guesthouse owners Peter and Hazelmary Bull were successfully sued by a same-sex couple for refusing to provide a double-bedded room. Since 1986 the Bulls have had a policy that “as Christians we have a deep regard for marriage (being the union of one man to one woman for life to the exclusion of all others). Therefore, although we extend to all a warm welcome to our home, our double-bedded accommodation is not available to unmarried couples—Thank you.”
The British courts found this policy discriminatory, and their small guesthouse, operated from within their own home, now faces closure. Other guesthouses have also been successfully sued for taking a similar position.
While the privatization of faith in the marketplace is still developing, a draft piece of European Union law known as the Equal Treatment Directive will, if passed, drastically increase pressure on business owners, forcing them to provide goods or services that contravene their consciences on threat of being hauled before the courts if they don’t.
Some of the provisions are highly controversial, even for Europe. For example, the proposed directive prohibits “harassment” in the provision of goods and services, which has the vague definition of “unwanted conduct . . . with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person and of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment.”
The directive also mandates that the nations create “bodies for the promotion of equal treatment” to bring about this “equality.” In the United Kingdom, which has voluntarily adopted many of the provisions of the directive, it was an equality body that launched the litigation against the Christian guesthouse owners mentioned above.
Although the proposal has been stalled for nearly five years, it could be resurrected at any moment. Future litigation is therefore very much a possibility.
So difficult is the situation becoming that the European Parliament and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have now recognized the trend and have held workshops on the subject of intolerance and discrimination against Christians. It may not be too long before persecution is the word being used to describe the phenomenon.
The increasing marginalization of the Church throughout the world should be concerning to all Christians. We must stand firm against the subtle, and not so subtle, attacks on our faith. If you, or your church, experience censorship, punishment, or unlawful regulation for speaking, acting, or ministering in accordance with Biblical principles, please contact Alliance Defending Freedom. Perhaps we can provide the legal assistance you need to live out your faith and keep the door open for the spread of the Gospel.
This column originally appeared in The Washington Examiner on Feb. 15, 2013