The OSCE Secretariat is in Vienna. However, its Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) is placed in Warsaw, where large meetings are regularly convened to scrutinize the implementation of OSCE plans and programmes within the human dimension area, including the freedom of religion and beliefs.
NGOs are usually invited to attend this kind of meetings, not just as observers, but are also allowed to speak at the plenary and organise side-meetings. This was so also this year. At the meeting that took place on 27 September, serious concerns were expressed by several NGOs regarding actions by various governments, especially in Central Asia, restricting their citizens from freely practising and manifesting their religious beliefs. Complaints were also expressed regarding situations in Ireland, Greece and Turkey.
In his intervention during the plenary Mr. David Pollock, the President of the European Humanist Federation, referred to the decision by the European Court of Human Rights to allow the Italian Government to enforce that all Italian schools must hang a crucifix on the wall in every classroom.
Here is what he said
On the subject of rule-of-law Ms. Vera Pegna, speaking on behalf of the Union of Rational Atheists and Agnostics, a member organisation of the EHF, said that she had reviewed a number of statements made by various authoritative Vatican representatives including the pope himself. This review prompted her to raise several issues regarding the attitudes and opinions reflected in these statements.
Here is her statement:
At a side meeting organised by the EHF the President asked me to open the meeting by introducing the concept of humanism. Here is what I said:
"Humanism is a non-religious life stance largely inspired by the open frame of mind that developed during the era of enlightenment in the 18th century, when all kinds of supra-natural explanations and beliefs were challenged and not least the role and power of religion, especially that of the Catholic church.
Humanists have confidence in the human intellect and its ability to progress by way of using scientific methods that accept theories as valid when based on evidence. In our search for answers to eternal questions such as that about the meaning of life and what may be beyond, we don’t find comfort in relying on supra-natural explanations, i.e. in believing the incredible.
We also don’t believe that there is a divine morality given to us from above but that moral convictions and values have developed over hundreds of thousands of years through continuous interaction between human beings in various settings ranging from tribes to modern states. As a result, fundamental moral values have become quite similar, but they differ in some areas due to geographical, historical, political and other circumstances including the large variety of religious beliefs.
Therefore, we still need to discuss and negotiate amongst ourselves with a view to agreeing on what is right and what is not. But surely, all of us can be good without God. At least, there is nothing to say, we can’t.
As humanists we firmly believe in the freedom of religion but also in everybody’s right to hold fundamental beliefs that are not religious.
We are, however, strongly opposed to the idea and the practice of religious organisations playing special roles in the governing of social affairs. The state should in our view remain neutral between various belief systems and there should be a separation between them and the state. This is what we mean by the concept of secularism.
We favour the implementation of human rights as included, inter alia, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. These rights have more and more become reflected in national legislations, which is good but not sufficient. In order to be effective, laws must also be implemented. That’s why we are anxious to promote the rule-of-law in both national and international realms.
Last but not least, I wish to stress our conviction that democracy is indispensable to ensure the proliferation and implementation of aforementioned values. Experience tells us that without democracy, there is no humanism, no freedom of opinion, religion or belief, no human rights and no rule-of-law. There may or may not be secularism but this is not enough. We need to secure all of our basic values."