Vilification, violence and discrimination are still a reality in the 21st century.
What was the most vilified religion in Scotland in 2010-2011? Not Islam – only 2.1 percent of religious hate crimes were directed against Muslims. Not Judaism – only 2.3 percent were directed against Jews. According to a report by the Scottish government, 95 percent of all religious hate crimes were directed against Christians.
"These statistics show the shameful reality of religious hate crime in Scotland,” the Minister for Community Safety, Roseanna Cunningham, declared last year. “Like racism, this kind of behaviour simply shouldn't be happening in a modern Scotland but sadly, it seems there are still those who think hatred on the basis of religion is acceptable.”
Christians are also the targets of most religious hate crimes in France. A report released last year showed that 84 percent of cases of religious vandalism had targeted Christian sites in 2010 – an increase of 96 percent in two years. Two hundred and fourteen cemeteries were vandalized, along with 272 chapels, 26 war memorials and 10 crosses.
Christian monuments are not the only targets. Earlier this month the hacker group Anonymous crashed the Vatican website, leaving a message: “Anonymous decided today to besiege your site in response to the doctrine, to the liturgies, to the absurd and anachronistic concepts that your for-profit organization spreads around the world."
The Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians, an Austrian NGO, documents the growing problem of Christian persecution in Europe in a recently-released annual report.
According to its director, Dr Gudrun Kugler, all Christian denominations in Europe face “a broad phenomena of intolerance and discrimination caused by those who reject and disrespect Christianity as a whole: radical lobbies which have gone overboard, seeking to limit the practice of the Christian religion and with it fundamental rights and freedoms.”
Is she over-dramatising the issue? Dr Kugler responds that many religious leaders and politicians in Europe have been hitting the alarm bell.
Last year Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, a senior Russian Orthodox prelate with a PhD from Oxford, warned that there is a “basic danger of attempting to use religious diversity as an excuse to exclude signs of Christian civilization from the public and political realities of the continent, as though this would make our continent friendlier towards non-Christians.”
And a Muslim government minister in the UK, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, admitted that Christianity was under siege by militant secularism in a landmark speech earlier this year.
“I see it in United Kingdom and I see it in Europe: spirituality suppressed; divinity downgraded… at its core and in its instincts [militant secularism] is deeply intolerant. It demonstrates similar traits to totalitarian regimes – denying people the right to a religious identity and failing to understand the relationship between religious loyalty and loyalty to the state.”
Dr Kugler admits that the hardships faced by European Christians are minor compared to the daily threats of murder, beating, imprisonment and torture in countries like Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. But, she says, “History teaches to address injustices before they become a slippery slope towards even greater injustices.”
Dr Kugler says that the growing intolerance and discrimination take several forms.
Human rights violations and discrimination. Christian are being denied the right to educate their children when there is a conflict between the parents’ convictions and state required sex education. The Catholic Church had to shut down adoption agencies in the UK because they were being forced to accept same-sex couples as adoptive parents.
Workplace discrimination. French pharmacists are required to sell the “morning after” pill which causes an early abortion. Midwives and nurses in Scotland must oversee abortions. Workers in the UK are threatened with dismissal for wearing crosses.
Marginalization and negative stereotyping. The media is constantly projecting hostile images of Christians and Christian values. The Norwegian killer Andres Breivik was instantaneously and wrongly called a “Christian fundamentalist” even though he had no connections with any mainstream Christian churches. Last July the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe even passed a resolution to “encourage the media not to spread prejudices against Christians and to combat negative stereotyping”.
Hate crimes. Violence against Christian sites and clerics is becoming more common. Churches, shrines and cemeteries are often torched or desecrated. “It is indisputable that hate crimes against Christians occur in the OSCE region,” Janez Lenarčič, of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, told a conference in Rome last year. “Such attacks instil fear, not just in the individuals they target directly, but also in the wider community, particularly where the Christian community in question belongs to a minority.”
But if most European countries are at least nominally Christian, isn’t it ridiculous to talk about a vilified minority? Wrong, says Dr Kugler. It is not nominal Christians who are getting the sharp end of the stick, but people who take the precepts of Christianity seriously. And these are a minority.
“South African blacks were not a minority when they suffered from apartheid. Also women always constituted a majority in history. Rocco Buttiglione was not accepted as an EU commissioner due to his adherence to Christianity, the majority faith. It is true that intolerance and discrimination more often affect minorities. More essential than numbers is power: who sets the tone, who is listened to, and who creates the agenda. Every day Europe’s majority faith is being treated disrespectfully; its faithful are faced with hostility and cultural animosity; and its free exercise is confronted with unjust limitations.”
Amazingly, statistics on “Christianophobia” are sketchy, a failure which Dr Kugler’s group is trying to set right. It acts as a clearinghouse, logging incidents of discrimination and intolerance which have been reported in the media.
As she points out, people need to know these grim stories to ensure that history does not repeat itself. In 2010, graffiti at the University of Barcelona sparked a minor controversy in Spain. “Los cristianos son como ratas. Apunta bien,” it said. “Christian are like rats. Shoot straight.” This happened in a country where thousands of Christians were shot like rats in the Spanish Civil War just because they went to Mass. Europe cannot afford to let this happen ever again.
Béatrice Stevenson is a French history student and research assistant for The Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians.