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CD-EUDNews Interviews Liviu Olteanu, Director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty at the EUD and Secretary General of the International Association for the Defense of Religious Liberty (AIDLR), Switzerland and Belgium.


Bern, Switzerland.CD-EUDNews, C.Cozzi, M.Fernandez.

Europe suffered wars, persecution and the loss of millions people in its history - and we certainly don’t want to see a return of those tragic times – when many people suffered for being a ‘minority’or ‘different’compared to the ‘majority’.

(Q). Dr. Olteanu, can you explain your experience regarding the application of the legislation that defends the freedom of religion in Europe? 

(A). Today, Europe, in many aspects, can be considered a good example for other parts of the world and there are states in the EU which have adopted legislation that defends the freedom of religion and freedom of conscience for “religious minorities”. In my opinion, a good example of a balanced legislation and implementation of religious freedom on behalf of religious minorities, is modern-day Catholic Spain, where the Jews and Seventh–day Adventists can keep their holy day of rest - Saturday. This has been the case within the educational context i.e. exams for students, or a work context, where the State has agreed that students may sit their exams on another day of the week or after sunset on Saturday. 

(Q). It is unbelievable, how a strongly Catholic country like Spain, has so completely changed its direction toward democracy, human rights and rule of law, to the point that religious minorities and specifically Seventh-day Adventists, today, are officially defended and protected in their intimate beliefs, and recognising by a precise article of law, that their Sabbath, the day of rest is Saturday. Please tell us more on the Spanish normative framework on religious liberty that opened doors to help the children and students with their exam timetable difficulties in particular.

(A). Every year the US Department of State via the USCIRF (US Commission on International Religious Freedom) conducts studies analysing the difficulties of each State towards religious freedom. Years ago, the US Department arrived at an interesting conclusion regarding religious freedom in the Kingdom of Spain. According to their research, the constitution and other laws and policies from Spain, protected religious freedom, and, in practice, the government generally enforced these protections. The government generally respected religious freedom in law and in practice.  

But let me give you some more detail about the study law in Spain. First of all, the Spanish Constitution, from 1978, in Articles 14and 16 highlights: (art. 14)Spaniards are equal before the law and may not in any way be discriminated against on account of birth, race, sex, religion, opinion or any other personal or social condition or circumstance; (art. 16):1.Freedom of ideology, religion and worship of individuals and communities is guaranteed, with no other restriction on their expression than may be necessary to maintain public order as protected by law. 2. No one may be compelled to make statements regarding his religion, beliefs or ideologies. 3. There shall be no State religion. The public authorities shall take the religious beliefs of Spanish society into account and shall consequently maintain appropriate cooperation with the Catholic Church and the other confessions.  

(Q). After the Constitution, what about the next steps the Spanish Parliament took to consolidate the religious liberty for all people that changed the perspective for Adventist students?

(A). The first step was the Constitution. Years later, the 1980 Religious Liberty Law of Spain was created, which stays that the State guarantees the fundamental right to freedom of worship and religion recognized by the Constitution, in accordance with the provisions of the present Act. I quote here: “Religious beliefs shall not occasion unequal or discriminatory treatment under the Law.  No one may be deprived of any occupation or activity or public positions or employment for reasons of religion. No faith shall be the official State religion”. But of special relevance is the Law 24/1992of 10 November, approving the Agreement of Cooperation between the State and the Federation of Evangelical Religious Entities of Spain, and the Adventist Church is part of this Agreement (we can see this law in the BOE Nº 272, 12 November). It mentions how the relations of cooperation between the State and the Federation of Evangelical Religious Organizations of Spain shall be governed under the provisions of the Agreement of Cooperation incorporated into this Law as an annex. And in this law we have the amazing Article 12 which specifically mentions Adventists:1.

The weekly day of rest for the followers of the Union of Seventh Day Adventistand other Evangelical churches belonging to the Federation of Evangelical Religious Entities of Spain, whose holy day is Saturday, may, with the agreement of all parties, include Friday evening and all of Saturday, in lieu of the day provided by Article 37.1 of the Workers' Statute as the general rule. 2. The students of the Churches mentioned in paragraph 1 of this article who are studying at public and agreed private subsidised schools, shall be exempted from attending class or taking examinations from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday, if so requested by the students themselves or by those with parental authority or guardianship. 3. Examinations, competitive state examinations or selective tests convened for employment in Public Administration jobs that are to be held during the period expressed in the preceding paragraph, shall be set for an alternative date for the followers of the Churches referred to in paragraph 1 of this Article, unless otherwise warranted by just cause.

Spain is not heaven on earth, but at least today, the level of discrimination affecting the Adventists on education, is less than in other European countries; the Spanish normative framework on religious freedom could be an example for all the world and it helps greatly Adventists students “to be exempted from attending the class or taking examinations from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday”: this is not an insignificant issue.

I suggest the Spanish pattern be brought to the attention of Adventist leaders in all the Unions and territories, because I believe, it is possible, to open doors for the benefit of Adventist followers. I want to underline here the importance of good influence and the strategy of keeping good relations between the Adventist Church and the State, organizations, institutions, other religions and churches, either at international or national level; these good relations in Spain were begun before the creation of the Law 24/1992 with the article on Adventists’ protection; Dr Carlos Puyol, the former President of the Spanish Union and Dr Daniel Bastera, Professor of Law at Complutense University, kept good relations with public officials, Real House, Parliament and other religious leaders, which helped the future legislative process. Later, these positive official relations continued to be developed by subsequent leaders, the pastors Alberto Guaita and Jesus Calvo, and Dr Oscar Lopez, the current Spanish Union president. Throughout the Inter-European Region of the Seventh-day Adventits (EUD) unions there are leaders with the capacity and vision who support religious freedom and good relations with national officials, from presidency, government, courts, religions, etc. and I want to congratulate all of them for what they have achieved up to this point, but much more needs to be done on public affairs and religious liberty. 

Q. Thank you for this explanation regarding Spain, it could be interesting to have an overview of the other countries about their relationship with their Governments. When you interviewed Dr. Ahmed Shaheed,UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Minorities and Adventists (see article …), can you explain which is his position if good practices do exist by highlighting the countries that embrace religious minorities, including Adventists? 

A. My question was: Special Rapporteur, what can be done to avoid and even to stop discrimination by legislation and/ or practice in European countries, and in all the world where it is still possible to observe discrimination, misinterpretation and sometimes some extremist, populist attacks and hate speech that directly affect the religious minorities, refugees or in some aspects even the Seventh-day Adventists? 

Dr. Ahmed Shaheed started his answer by underlining the principle of non-discrimination and discriminatory provisions imposed by States and non-States actors based on religion or belief and targeting religious minorities.According to Shaheedthe discrimination can usually happen in certain States where a religion has a privileged status, but also, where the States attempt to impose a doctrinal secularism. But let us look in detail at his reasoning. 

Dr. Shaheed stresses in his answer: Article 2 (1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights requires State parties to respect and ensure that all individuals within their territory enjoy the rights recognized in the Covenant “without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”. It is the cornerstone of the principle of non-discrimination in international human rights law. The principle of non-discrimination applies to both the enjoyment and lawful restriction of this right. Indeed, a claim for equality for all is inherent to the right to freedom of religion or belief.

Nonetheless, a large percentage of discriminatory provisions imposed by States and actions taken by non-State actors are based on religion or belief, and disproportionately target religious minorities. In certain States where religion has been given “official” or privileged status, other fundamental rights of individuals, especially religious minorities, are disproportionately restricted or vitiated under threat of sanctions as a result of the obligatory observation of State-imposed religious orthodoxy. The right to freedom of religion or belief is also challenged by States that attempt to impose a doctrinal secularism to sanitize the public sphere of concepts associated with religious or belief systems. 

(Q). Do you believe that there are even morenon-visible, indirect forms of discriminationthat could affect the Adventists? 

A. Unfortunately, the answer is ‘yes’. Let us look to what Dr Shaheed says on this matter:

Ahmed ShaheedApart from the ongoing need to tackle direct and open manifestations of discrimination, there is a need for greater sensitivity to more obscure forms of discrimination, such as prima facie“neutral” rules limiting certain manifestations of religion. Although they usually do not target a specific community openly, such rules can amount to discrimination against persons belonging to religious minorities. Similar problems may arise with regard to dietary rules, fasting, labour regulations, public health norms, or public holiday observances as in the specific case of Seventh Day Adventists.  

Overcoming the various forms of discrimination in the field of religion or belief, including indirect and structural discrimination, is a complex task that requires moving beyond mere formal or codified equality towards the concept of substantive equality, including by adopting practical measures that ensure reasonable accommodation. More specifically, amid increasing globalization and rising diversity, it appears axiomatic that the role of the State as an “impartial guarantor” of the rights of all is mostly likely to be fulfilled when the State adopts a posture of cooperation and accommodation without identification. 

Let us remember the comments of UN expert that “there is a need for greater sensitivity to more obscure forms of discrimination”; also we – all of us, leaders and members - have to continue to be vigilant regarding the normative implementation and practice of religious freedom, specially, being a proactive actor in the defence of fundamental freedoms of the Other…; if we do it for others, then others will speak up for us too.  

Corrado Cozzi & Mercedes Fernandez