Religious Freedom Annual Review 2016 Friday Afternoon Closing Plenary: Current Developments in Europe

by Jedidiah Gibson

The Friday, 8 July 2016 closing plenary, Current Developments in Europe, featured David M. Kirkham, Senior Fellow for Comparative Law and International Policy, International Center for Law and Religion Studies, J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University and Academic Director, BYU London Centre; and Michael L. Jensen, Area Legal Counsel, Office of General Counsel, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Both offered insight into religious liberty developments in Europe. 

In his presentation, David Kirkham provided some tentative observations of how the recent Brexit referendum in Great Britain may effect Americans who are interested in religious liberty.  His presentation focused on the special relationship and heritage America and Great Britain have shared throughout history, and the current political climate in both countries relating to immigration and security issues. 

In discussing the current political climate in Great Britain, Professor Kirkham addressed how security and immigration issues such as potential bans and travel restrictions on Muslims and other ethnic and minority groups is an area of concern with respect to religious freedom.

He concluded his remarks by discussing how both countries have an elevated understanding of human rights and both countries’ role in protecting human rights in the future. Specifically, he addressed the push by some in Great Britain to withdraw membership from the European Court of Human Rights. Professor Kirkham advanced the idea that this is not because Great Britain is abandoning the protection of human rights, but instead because the country thinks it can do human rights better.

Michael L. Jensen discussed examples of current issues concerning religious freedom that the LDS Church has observed in Europe. First, Mr. Jensen addressed the great refugee crises currently unfolding in Europe. Specifically, he address a positive effect stemming from the crises—it has increased the dialogue about religious freedom with government and political leaders across the continent. Mr. Jensen also discussed some critical legislation pending that may pose a potential threat to religious liberty. One example was of an out-of-school education and counter terrorism initiative in the U.K. that, if passed, would allow for the government to monitor religious education programs for potential terrorist activity. This concerns the LDS Church because of its large seminary and institute of religion programs throughout the world. 

Also discussed was the Equal Treatment Directive (ETD) which is currently being considered in the European Union. There are several areas of concern with ETD, one of which is the burden of proof that defendants accused of discrimination would carry in court. Also of concern, is the fact that anyone could bring a discrimination complaint against an individual or organization, not just the individual effected. 

In sum, Mr. Jensen observed that although there are different concerns regarding religious freedom across the globe, there are similar solutions. These solutions involve concerned citizens and institutions monitoring new developments and working collaboratively with others to achieve common goals.