Discrimination against Humanists

Article excerpt

Slovakia's record on freedom of religion and belief falls seriously short of international human rights standards. It therefore merits intense scrutiny as this Eastern European republic and five other nations--Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, and Romania--seek membership in the European Union.

There is no doubt that Slovakia is founded on sound principles promoting the creation of a pluralist democratic state. Consider the following from its constitution:

* Article 1 declares the republic a sovereign, democratic state that is "not linked to any ideology, nor religion."

* Article 11 assures that international treaties on human rights and fundamental freedoms that are ratified by Slovakia will take precedence over national laws.

* Article 24 guarantees the freedom of thought, conscience, and religious creed and belief and expressly states: "Everybody has the right to be without religious allegiance. Everybody has the right to manifest his/her persuasion in public."

In addition, since 1993 Slovakia has agreed to be bound by a number of international agreements whose adherence is required for EU membership. The republic has either ratified or accepted the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), and the UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief (1981). It has also agreed to be bound by European instruments such as the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1950) and the Declaration of European Parliament about Fundamental Rights and Freedoms (1989).

However, in practice, the Slovakian government has paid scant heed to its sovereign obligations under these agreements or to its own constitutional dictates. This has led to a steady erosion of the government's neutrality in matters of faith and belief.

For example, in 1997 the president of Slovakia officially dedicated the republic to the "Holy Virgin Mary." The current law governing the relationship between church and state favors the church. Meanwhile, Slovakia is considering a treaty with the Vatican that would regulate the advantageous position of the Roman Catholic church in Slovak society. And the Roman Catholic church is attempting to establish schools that are completely financed by the state but administered exclusively by church authorities.

Since 1991 Prometheus Society Slovakia has been highlighting many developments that are damaging to internationally accepted human rights standards. This International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) member organization has specifically pointed to Slovakia's discrimination against humanists and others who do not profess any religious belief, whose life philosophy is based on a naturalistic understanding of the universe, or whose ethics are grounded in secular human values. …