In the News: Council of Europe Rejects Religious Accommodation

Council of Europe rejects recommendation on reasonable accommodation, European Humanist Federation (EHF), 2020-01-29.

Brussels, 29 January 2020 – The European Humanist Federation (EHF) welcomes the rejection of the recommendation on “The protection of freedom of religion or belief in the workplace” by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (CoE), an important step towards non-discrimination of employees. The EHF also welcomes the fact that resolution approved at the same parliamentary session does not contain the notion of “reasonable accommodation”.

Presented as a way to ensure freedom of religion or belief in the workplace, the resolution and recommendation initially aimed at introducing in the law of member states the concept of the so-called “reasonable accommodation of religion or belief”. In other words, to introduce a legally binding duty on employers to grant “reasonable accommodation” to employees’ claims based on religious beliefs. The EHF celebrates that CoE’s Parliamentary Assembly rejected the recommendation that otherwise would have been sent to the Committee of Ministers, and that it suppressed all mention of reasonable accommodation from the resolution it adopted.

Far from combatting discrimination based on belief or conviction, the proposed motion would have given a privileged position to claims based on religious beliefs over other, thus sowing discord between employees and increasing conflicts, not reducing them. Moreover, “reasonable accommodation” points out to a broadening of conscientious objection, in particular when it comes to women’s sexual and reproductive health rights, notably the access to safe and legal abortion or to contraceptives. Accommodating religious demands at the workplace could also come at the expense of the rights of LBGTIQ people, as religious claims are often used to discriminate against them.

“We should celebrate that the concept of reasonable accommodation isn’t present in the resolution that was adopted today. This is a victory for those who protect and promote the human rights of vulnerable people, including the right of those without a religion not to suffer discrimination as a result of excessive exemptions for religious groups”, commented Giulio Ercolessi, President of the EHF.

“Reasonable accommodation fosters the most literalist and fundamentalist readings of religion, as it supposes that a certain religious practice has to be absolute and the believer cannot compromise on it, putting the entire burden to accommodate on the other party. It incites division, contrary to the humanist principles of social cohesion and equal rights for all”, he added.

An excellent decision and a victory for secularism. So-called “reasonable” accommodations constitute in fact religious privileges and are certainly not reasonable.

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