Religious contributions to law- and policy-making in a secular political order: the approach of European institutions
Much has been made of the fact that the Lisbon Treaty provided religious bodies with a privileged status in relation to dialogue with European Union (EU) institutions. Amidst claims of a more general return of religious influence over public affairs1 it may be tempting to see such structures as evidence of the ‘post-secularity’ of the European Union’s political structures. However, such a conclusion is incorrect. The EU’s approach to the engagement of religious organisations in its policy-making and law-making processes is characteristic neither of post-secularism nor of an abandonment of the commitments to the religious neutrality of the political system or to public policy based solely on generally accessible, secular, public reasons. Certainly, the Union has sought out religious contributions and has even privileged religious bodies. However, it is willing and able to accommodate only certain types of religious contribution to law-and policy-making. The Union’s commitment to secular politics and to the strong traditions of civic equality and freedom from religion means that it is only those religious groups that can accept the legitimacy of other religious, and non-religious, worldviews, that can refrain from asserting claims to a monopoly on truth in the political arena and that can phrase their contributions in generally accessible, religiously neutral terms that will be able to avail themselves of the structures provided to religious organisations by the Union. This chapter demonstrates how the EU’s approach in this regard reflects a pattern under which balance is sought between partially conflicting religious and humanist influences that underpin the Union’s public order. It shows how religion is recognised by the Union as an element of its constitutional values but how, at the same time, this role is balanced by the recognition of potentially competing humanist and cultural influences. Although the EU recognises the ‘particular contribution’ of religious bodies in this area, it requires that this contribution be made in the context of civil society, thereby requiring religious bodies to engage in structures that implicitly recognise the legitimacy of other beliefs and the authority of secular political institutions. Accordingly, the notion of balance between the various elements of the Union’s ethical inheritance is preserved by recognising a role for religion in relation to law-making while simultaneously making such a role contingent on the limitation of claims on the part of religion to a monopoly on truth or to substantive political power in its own right.