Maltese MEPs vote against criminalisation of blasphemy

Maltese MEPs vote against criminalisation of blasphemy in vote over EU Guidelines respecting freedom of religion.

On 13 June, five of six Maltese MEPs voted in favour of a resolution to set the EU Guidelines on the Promotion and Protection of Freedom of Religion or Belief, which explicitly mention the need to protect the rights of both believers and non-believers and oppose any attempt to criminalise freedom of expression on religious grounds.

The resolution specifically calls on the EU to "firmly oppose any attempt to criminalise freedom of speech in relation to religious issues, such as blasphemy laws" in its dealings with the rest of the world. But this contrasts with Maltese law, which prohibits the vilification of, or giving offense to, the Roman Catholic Church, Roman Catholicism being Malta's official religion. From January to September 2012 there were 99 convictions for public blasphemy.

Labour MEPs vote against European Socialist line

An interesting twist is that by voting for the resolution, Labour MEPs defied the line taken by the Party of European Socialists. The PES opposed the resolution, because it undermines the idea of a secular public education by recognising the right of parents to deny State interference in education if it goes against their beliefs.

But while Nationalist MEPs David Casa and Roberta Metsola voted in line with their EPP political grouping, which proposed the resolution, Labour MEPs Claudette Abela Baldacchino, Joseph Cushcieri and Marlene Mizzi also voted in favour, unlike the absolute majority of European Socialist MEPs. John Attard Montalto abstained. Only seven PES MEPs voted for the resolution.

The resolution was approved with 372 voting in favour and 213 against.

The most contentious aspect of the resolution, which led to the negative vote of most socialists and greens, was the reference to the right of parents to educate their children according to their religious or non-religious convictions.

The resolution states that this right cannot be restricted and includes parents' right to deny any interference from State or non-State actors in their children's education "if it goes against their beliefs".

Vice-president of the Socialist and Democrat Group Véronique De Keyser expressed serious concerns about "the very reactionary contents of this unacceptable resolution" adopted by the conservative majority in the European Parliament.

"This resolution would make it impossible to oppose the teaching of creationism in schools. We would be able to do nothing to prevent dangerous or retrogressive religious medical practices".

De Keyser considered the report as running contrary to the idea of public education.

Curiously, other secular groups, such as the liberals and the European left, voted for the resolution.

The resolution also condemns violence, persecution and discrimination against people belonging to "religious communities" and "minorities" and against the non-religious.

The only reference in the resolution to the right to conscientious objection is made with respect to military service, and no mention is made of contentious issues like abortion.

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