BRUSSELS—On June 28 at the landmark Solvay Library, situated near the European Parliament, a large group of faith and government representatives met in what has been termed the first Faith and Freedom Summit. Their aspiration: To devise and implement a formula that will bridge the deep divides between people of different faiths or none, and return freedom of religion or belief in the European Union to the spotlights.
So much hope was placed upon this conference to address and resolve the divisions caused by intolerance that Archbishop Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher from the World Evangelical Alliance attended just after meeting with Pope Francis in Rome to receive the personal blessings of the Pontiff and his wishes for the Summit’s success.
The 80 participants—religious leaders and scholars, human rights advocates, members of the European Parliament, and other leaders from throughout Europe—included representatives from the United States and from as far away as Indonesia.
Richard Milsom, Chief Executive of the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe, introduced the conference and the importance to act now with reference to Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB), especially in light of the upcoming 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in December.
His speech was followed by a video address from Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, who spoke on the importance of European external and internal policies in regard to the freedom of religion or belief. He asked every Member of the European Parliament to sign the pledge that reads:
“I pledge that I will uphold and defend the freedom of conscience and religion of all individuals by rejecting and speaking out against bigotry, discrimination, harassment and violence; and so build a more equitable society for all.”
Panel discussions focused on the need for implementation of bold policies committed to freedom of religion or belief. These panels discussed what could and should be done to strengthen application of these policies to ensure these benefits carry through to every individual in the European Union.
Ján Figel' Special Envoy for the Promotion of Freedom of Religion or Belief outside the European Union, spoke of the necessity of internal and external coherence so FoRB can become a reality.
Archbishop Schirrmacher addressed the need for religious leaders to instruct their congregations to find out about other faiths and to express tolerance and respect toward them.
Former U.S. Congressman Bob McEwen delivered a special presentation that was followed by a video address by the Honorable Sam Brownback, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.
In a final keynote speech, Eric Roux, Vice President of the European Office of the Church of Scientology for Public Affairs and Human Rights, and Regional Director for Europe of STAND, delivered the following message: “Freedom of religion or belief has no religion. It has no political side. What people believe is their most ultimate freedom. Their link to God, or to the ultimate sense of life, and the expression of these inner beliefs are the most profound richness of a human being. That is why freedom of religion or belief must be fought for all, always, with no consideration of whatever faith one chooses.”