Intolerance, discrimination and persecution of different kinds are still with us in the twenty first century as they were present in previous centuries. All kinds of such activities are immoral and reprehensible. I will concentrate to-day on religious intolerance against Christians.

Reports suggest that 100 million Christians worldwide are being persecuted. Christianity to-day is the most persecuted religion. In fact, 75% of all religious persecution is directed against Christians. There are regions where persecution is savage and deadly. The Middle East is such an area. The massacre of Christians in Iraq and Egypt in the past weeks is a sign of how bad the situation can be.

Besides persecution, there can also be intolerance and discrimination. As far back as 1983, John Paul II asked us not to overlook the “more sophisticated punishments, such as social discrimination or subtle restrictions of freedom, possibly leading to a kind of civil death.”

More sophisticated hostility

Pope Benedict referred to different kinds of religious intolerance and persecutions in his message for the World Day of Peace. He showed solidarity with Christian who are facing death in different parts of the world. He then moved nearer home, i.e. Western and European countries.

“There also exist – as I have said – more sophisticated forms of hostility to religion which, in Western countries, occasionally find expression in a denial of history and the rejection of religious symbols which reflect the identity and the culture of the majority of citizens. Often these forms of hostility also foster hatred and prejudice; they are inconsistent with a serene and balanced vision of pluralism and the secularity of institutions. …

I also express my hope that in the West, and especially in Europe, there will be an end to hostility and prejudice against Christians because they are resolved to orient their lives in a way consistent with the values and principles expressed in the Gospel.”

Former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, in March 2009 had been quoted as saying that we are living in an age which is ‘aggressively secularist’ age and there is the risk that people see faith just as a personal eccentricity. His wife Cherie Blair said that Christians are often being marginalised.

Such marginalisation takes different forms: religion is relegated to the purely private sphere; the public celebration of Christian festivals is discouraged; Christians in public roles are expected, sometimes, to act against their conscience. Sometimes, as Blair had said, incidents of people not being allowed to express their Christianity are exceptional or the result of individual ludicrous decisions. Sometimes the situation is more serious as it is institutionalised.

Intolerance in Europe

Recently the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians published its five year report about this subject. The Observatory is an NGO registered in Austria. The Observatory hosts a website which monitors and catalogues instances in which Christians and Christianity are marginalized or discriminated against throughout Europe.

The Observatory uses the phrase “Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians “to describe the denial of equal rights of Christians and the social marginalisation of Christians. In their report they use the term “intolerance“ as referring to the social dimension, while the term “discrimination” refers to the legal one.

I read the report which is quite extensive. Some examples given in the report are just annoying behaviour of eccentric, disturbed or spiteful individuals. Perhaps such examples could have been left out. Other examples are more worrisome. I am listing here some examples which, I believe, fit in the latter category.

United Kingdom: (Scotland)

March 2010: A street preacher has been arrested and fined £1000 in Glasgow for telling passersby, in answer to a direct question, that homosexual activity is a sin. He was sentenced for “homophobic remarks…aggravated by religious prejudice.”

European Institutions / Italy:

October 2009: Professor Luigi Lombardi Vallauri‘s teaching contract was not prolonged by the Catholic University of Milano after he taught things like the gospel was the “Most frightening message ever made known to mankind” and that “Jesus was through and through a bad human being.“ On October 20th, the Court ruled that this was a violation of his freedom of opinion.

United Kingdom:

April 2007: New gay rights law forces the Catholic Church to pull out of offering adoption services in the UK.

United Kingdom:

November 2009: Christians in employment in the UK will no longer be able to act according to their consciences and the rights of homosexual couples trump those of people of Christian faith, according to a ruling of the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

United Kingdom:

February 2009: A Christian foster carer has been struck off because she allowed a Muslim child in her care to convert to Christianity.

United Kingdom:

January 2009: A homelessness prevention officer with Wandsworth Council has been suspended from work for nearly two months for encouraging a homeless woman with an incurable medical condition to look to God for help.

Austria:

September 2008: The government of Austria reinforces guidelines for sexual education that practically prohibit the teaching of authentic Christian sexual values. The guidelines extend to classes of religious education.

France:

February 2009: 67% of French Catholic parents say that public schools do not respect the freedom of conscience of their children.

United Kingdom:

February 2010: Under the bill, schools, both religious and secular, will be required to give children information on homosexual relationships as well as artificial contraception and abortion, including on how to obtain abortions and contraceptives. Catholic and Anglican schools will be required to promote abortion, contraception, “civil partnerships” and homosexuality as “normal and harmless.”

Austria:

November 2010: The lower Austrian main building of government (NÖ-Landhaus) hosts an exhibition which displays Mary, the mother of Jesus, covered in a condom, and sperma. This exhibition is funded by public money and approved by the governer Mr. Erwin Pröll.

Portugal:

July 2010: Playboy’s Portuguese edition published photos depicting Jesus Christ among topless Playboy models, allegedly in a tribute to author Jose Sarmago.

Spain:

February 2006: Sculpture shows Christ with a missile instructing Second World War German soldiers in Ferran Cano Art Gallery in Madrid.

European Institutions / Italy: European Court of Human Rights

November 2009: The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on November 3rd that the display of crucifixes in public schools restricted religious freedoms. „The compulsory display of a symbol of a given confession in premises used by the public authorities ... restricted the right of parents to educate their children in conformity with their convictions.“

The full report can be accessed from http://www.intoleranceagainstchristians.eu/