“In the Western world today there is often the freedom to criticize any religious view, but at the same time tough censorship of religious symbols and religious approaches,” Deputy head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations Hegumen Philipp (Ryabykh) has told Interfax-Religion.
That was his comment on the statement by Council of Europe Secretary-General Thorbjorn Jagland that the criticism of religions, “their myths and ideas” meet the European norms of democracy.
Religious views of various problems “very often are not regarded as equal to the views of people whose approach is based, say, on the findings of various sciences – both fundamental and humanities, and such views are attributed to the sphere of mythology which insults the stance of religious people,” the clergyman said.
“Besides, the language of religion is censured in public life. Thus Christmas becomes simply a seasonal holiday. Christmas trees are kept out of public places and it has been suggested to remove the crucifix from schools,” he said.
Thus Europe “that often demands openness, the freedom of expression restricts the right of religious people to be present with their opinions, and their vision of the world in the public sphere,” he said.
Father Philipp called for guaranteeing the right of religious communities to freely express their points of view, for instance, on questions of bioethics or same sex marriages.
“If we succeed in building a society in which not only unreligious people and unbelievers can openly and freely express their stance, but also people with an alternative world outlook, it will truly be the desired result and desired situation in Europe,” the clergymen added.
In an article written for the mass media Jagland said: “We cannot allow incitement to violence and hatred, but I vigorously defend both the right to criticize governments, political leaders, religions, their myths and their ideas, as much as the right of people to protest – peacefully – against such free expression, whether in articles, television programs, art or cartoons.”
Freedom of speech and expression is the very essence of European identity, Jagland noted.