The EU is today a growing, eclectic mix of cultures, ethnicities and religions that form its unique richness. However, the very same elements could potentially clash with the bloc's democratic and secular nature, prompting policymakers and legislators to address the pressures that arise from such complexity. The EU-funded project 'Religious diversity and secular models in Europe innovative approaches to law and policy' (RELIGARE) explored how to balance non-discrimination norms and freedom of religion. Looking at Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom, it examined this complex reality from different angles. It looked at discrimination against non-believers, non-confessional groups, and religious organisations apart from those already acknowledged or regulated by law. The team also investigated freedom of belief in individual and collective settings, in addition to examining the unequal distribution of government support. Moreover, the project looked at social life, employment, family life, use of public space and state support in each country. It combined legal analysis with sociological data, building on databases from the 10 countries under study, legislation, court cases and controversies. The project encouraged EU states and institutions to become more active in combating religious discrimination within a democratic framework in order to help overcome divisions and segregations. It proposed legislative instruments, participatory initiatives such as dialogue, and the engagement of experts or expert groups in the debate. RELIGARE and its results represent a key research instrument for evaluating freedom of religion in EU Member States. Project results also caution against inclusive even-handedness in dealing with freedom of religion, as any legal restriction will be seen by some as discriminatory. Rethinking the interface of religion and secularism in the EU will help ensure a better future for all its citizens.
Religion, secularism, discrimination, ethnicities, religious diversity, social life, segregation