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BHA: The Berlin Declaration "a victory for Secularism"

"The Berlin Declaration is a victory for Secularism in Europe" said Roy Brown, coordinator of the Vision for Europe campaign, speaking from London last night. "The text, intended to pave the way for a new draft of the European constitution, emphasises the centrality of the individual, our "inalienable rights" and the "inviolable dignity" of the individual. The Declaration contains no reference to God, religion, or to Europe's supposed Christian heritage but clearly reflects the shared values expressed in the Brussels Declaration launched by our campaign last month at the European Parliament. We congratulate the German chancellor Angela Merkel and our European colleagues for this outcome - and we thank everyone who worked so hard for this welcome result".

The victory for Secularism had seemed unlikely last Autumn when, following a meeting with the pope, the German Chancellor announced plans to revive the stalled project for a European constitution "with God included".

The text of the Berlin Declaration was the subject of sometimes bitter debate behind closed doors between those who wanted it to contain references to God and to Europe's Christian heritage, and those who saw any such references as potentially divisive. In the event it appears that good sense, assisted by a strong campaign by Europe's secularists has prevailed.

The secular fight-back centred around the Vision for Europe campaign and the Brussels Declaration, a one-page restatement of Europe's shared values: the dignity and autonomy of the individual, equality of the sexes, human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The Brussels Declaration, a joint project sponsored by the International Humanist and Ethical Union, the European Humanist Federation, Catholics for a Free Choice, and the European Parliament all-party group on Separation of Religion and Politics, received widespread support from politicians, academics, scientists, Nobel prize-winners, writers and journalists from across Europe. It has been signed by more than 80 MEPs. The Brussels Declaration was presented to the representative of the German presidency at the European parliament on 27 February and was followed up by letters to all 27 European heads of government.

Sophie in't Veld, chair of the parliamentary group, said "I am very pleased that the Berlin Declaration puts the dignity and rights of the individual center stage. Individual freedom, the right to one's own choices is the very essence of our European values. Freedom of religion is part of that individual freedom. Religious leaders of all corners of Europe are trying to turn the clock back by attacking individualism and the separation of church and state."

David Pollock, president of the European Humanist Federation said: "This is a triumph for common sense but we cannot rest on our laurels. The forces of reaction will not have been silenced. Regardless of one's personal views on the desirability of a new European constitution, all who oppose religious privilege must continue to work for a secular Europe".

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