Under an anti-discrimination directive passed by the European Union Parliament in April, Christian churches, schools, and social services in Europe cannot limit their membership to those who share their beliefs. The directive, which the parliament passed by a 360-277 vote, must be passed unanimously by member states for it to become law.
The directive expands anti-discrimination protection beyond employment to health care, social benefits, education, and "access to goods and services." Originally intended to protect the disabled, the proposal was expanded to include discrimination against religion and belief, age, or sexual orientation. Exemptions in the draft legislation for "organizations based on religion and belief" were removed before the final vote.
"In its present form, I would say I am extremely concerned," said Don Horrocks, head of public affairs for the European Evangelical Alliance "It is very serious, though many regard it as extreme." He believes the directive is unlikely to be passed in its present form, and expects that the government may hold public consultations before it is finalized.
If the directive were passed into law, faith-based social services would face problems, said Luke Goodrich, legal counsel at the The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
For example, faith-based schools and daycare centers could be barred from taking applicants' religion into account for enrollment and employment. Marriage counselors and adoption agencies could have less discretion in accepting clients.
While the legislation's aim is to ensure that all rights are equally respected and kept in balance, that may prove impossible to practice, Horrocks said. "There are definite attempts by some to create a hierarchy of rights in which ...1