Britain’s Roman Catholic leaders have branded a proposed EU Equal Treatment Directive an “instrument of oppression”.
The Bishops are concerned that the Directive could limit freedom of religion and freedom of expression.
They warn that if the Directive were implemented “the EU would effectively be dictating to religious bodies what their faith does or does not require: a wholly unacceptable position”.
The Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland have made the comments in a joint response to a UK Government consultation on the proposed Directive.
Most Revd Peter Smith, Archbishop of Cardiff, cited “serious concerns about possible unintended consequences which could have the effect of limiting the right of the Church and its members to act in accordance with Catholic belief”.
The Directive proposes to introduce a framework of anti-discrimination law that all European member states would have put into practice through laws in their own countries.
In their consultation response, the Bishops warn that the Directive fails to balance the competing rights of different groups and that “practical implementation may effectively turn the Directive into an instrument of oppression against one or other group”.
Commenting on the Directive’s “entirely subjective” harassment provisions, the Bishops say: “Various pressure groups are likely to use the provisions of the Directive to curtail the expression of views they disagree with by the simple expedient of declaring themselves to be offended.”
The response cites several possible examples of this, including campaigners for same-sex marriage declaring themselves offended by presentations of the Roman Catholic Church’s moral teaching on homosexual acts; and an atheist claiming to be offended by religious pictures in an art gallery.
In the response overview, the Bishops state: “What the Church is seeking from this Directive is simply the right to maintain its own teaching and activities with integrity, according to its own ethos.”