Religious freedom concerns
No accommodation for religion and belief
So far, the ETD does not foresee accommodation of goods and service providers on the ground of religion and belief. Through its “non-discrimination” provisions, the ETD would limit public manifestations of reasonable beliefs and would lead to situations in which persons would be forced to act contrary to their religious creeds or conscience. This would affect both, individuals and ethos-based businesses, charities and organizations.
No one would have the right to refuse to provide goods and services, i.e. to refuse to enter into contract, when this provision would be a direct violation of their reasonably held religious beliefs.
Countries that have similar legislation in place at the national level, as the UK, show that, when such businesses sought to act in accordance with their reasonable beliefs, time-consuming and expensive trials were initiated, negative media coverage damaged reputations and caused loss of clients, which ultimately ended up in the closure of the businesses.
Religion in a democratic society
Democratic societies have citizens’ freedom at their very heart. This entails freedom to agree, to argue, to criticize, to disagree, to make concessions and compromises and so to maintain and promote democratic values.
The ETD excludes from its scope, “organizations based on religion or belief” (article 3.4 Draft ETD). Besides it being unclear what would exactly qualify for such an organization, the freedom of religion and belief has to be guaranteed, within the boundaries of the law, for every citizen and not only for organizations. The government’s role is not to regulate or validate the beliefs and worldviews of its citizens – be they religious or secular – but to guarantee that there can be free exchange and even confrontation within the boundaries of public order, safety, morals, and public health. A democratic society must accommodate different worldviews, religions and beliefs and make sure they can live according to their reasonably held convictions.
Religion and belief are constitutive for the identity of human beings, of who we are. Freedom of thought, conscience and religion also means that no one can be forced to act contrary to his reasonably held beliefs, both in private and public life. They can run contrary to other people’s beliefs or worldviews, such as their affirmation of different forms of sexual identity. This doesn’t contradict tolerance, which means that different worldviews and beliefs can co-exist without mutually approving them.
The ETD would not respect freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as it would force business owners and every citizen to provide goods and services regardless of whether the client’s request would violate directly his conscience or religion. Clashes are inevitable.
If there is no objective scarcity of a vital good or service, there is no need to force someone to provide a good or service that violates his conscience, religion or belief. However, this would be the very effect of the ETD.
Uncertain and differential protection of religious freedom
Freedom of religion and belief has to be guaranteed to everyone, within the boundaries of the law, be it individually, or collectively. Differences in the protection of various human rights are permitted, but they must be reasonably justified and based on legitimate aims set out by the law, such as the protection of public order, safety, public health, and morals.
The ETD makes a distinction between “organizations based on religion or belief” (article 3.4 Draft ETD), and all other organizations. Whereas the former are excluded from the scope of the ETD, the latter are regulated by the far-reaching and potentially harmful provisions of the ETD, which impact on the freedom of religion and belief, freedom of expression and freedom of association. Therefore, this distinction entails a different protection of the freedom of religion or belief granted to different types of organizations, without it being reasonably justified on legitimate grounds.
Besides the lack of reasonable justifications, the ETD also leaves it unclear what would exactly qualify for “an organization based on religion or belief” and would, therefore, benefit from a higher protection of freedom of religion or belief.