Concern over suggested changes to EU Directive

An EU Directive which threatens the religious liberty of Christians does not go far enough, an influential MEP has said.

Kathalijne Buitenweg MEP wants to delete wording which limits the Directive to ‘professional or commercial’ spheres.

She also wants to delete wording which protects member states from having gay adoption forced upon them.

However, she does think that proposals on harassment – which may damage the free speech rights of Christians – are too broadly drafted.

Kathalijne Buitenweg, from the Netherlands, has been examining the Directive on behalf of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs.

As the Committee’s rapporteur, her job is to investigate the Directive and draft an initial report.

If the Committee accepts her draft report, it will then be considered by the whole Parliament, which may adopt the report, with its suggested changes, as its own view.

This view will then be considered by the European Commission.

The Parliament’s view is not binding upon the Commission but can be influential.

The draft Directive aims to outlaw discrimination in the provision of goods and services, including on grounds of sexual orientation and religion.

Similar laws in the UK have led to significant difficulties with the religious liberty of Christian individuals and organisations.

Allowing the EU to legislate on this matter would hand control of controversial discrimination law from the nation states to Brussels.

A number of states, including Germany and the Czech Republic, are understood to prefer to deal with the matter using their own laws.

These are the three key changes the rapporteur wants:

1. Harassment should be limited to a closed environment

The Directive’s definition of harassment is so broad that moderate explanations of Christian beliefs on sexual conduct or other religions, like Islam, could fall foul.

The rapporteur recommends that the worrying ‘harassment’ proposals should apply only in closed environments – meaning the person has little choice but to be there, for example a benefits office. An open environment means they have much greater choice over being there, such as a particular shop.

2. Change in the scope of the Directive

The Directive’s current remit only applies to someone “performing a professional or commercial activity” when they supply a good or service.

But the rapporteur says it should instead read, “the private life of individuals shall be respected” when providing a good or a service. This suggests the scope of the Directive could be made broader.

3. Equal treatment for legally recognised same-sex partnerships could apply to gay adoption.

Under the Directive, countries which legally recognise civil partnerships between same-sex couples are required to treat them in the same way as married couples. Under European case law, this could mean countries with civil partnerships are forced to allow gay adoption.

A line in the current wording of the Directive suggests this would not be the case: “This Directive is without prejudice to national laws on marital or family status and reproductive rights.”

But the rapporteur wants this line to be deleted from the Directive.

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