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Press Release

23 February 2005 12 Phalgun 536 Nanakshahi

MEPs Pave the Way for Debate on Religious Freedoms and Rights in European Parliament

Strasbourg

London Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have paved the way for a debate in the European Parliament on the French ban on religious signs in schools by launching a written declaration yesterday for Religious Rights and Freedoms in France and throughout the European Community. If half the 732 MEPs sign the declaration it will be tabled as a resolution for debate in the next three months.

The Declaration which has cross-party support calls for the right of schoolchildren to wear the Muslim Hijab, the Sikh Turban, Jewish Skullcap and Christian Cross. Today at a Press Conference in Strasbourg to mark the launch of the declaration, a signature campaign was started to canvas MEPs throughout Europe.

"UNITED SIKHS will form a working party to canvass MEPs throughout the 25 countries of the European Community Europe and we are hopeful that we will get the numbers to have a debate in the European Parliament," said UNITED SIKHS director Kudrat Singh, who will be at the European Parliament tomorrow with Jasvir Singh, one of the 5 young Sikh schoolboys who are sueing the French government for expelling them for wearing their Turban to school.

"This will be a great campaign as MEPs across religious, cultural political and language divides will be asked to sign for the right to manifest one's religion and we hope that they will act according to their conscience," Shingara Singh, UNITED SIKHS Director added. UNITED SIKHS is a global human development organisation which has been in the forefront of a Right To Turban campaign since the French ban law was proposed in December 2003.

London Liberal Democrat MEP Baroness Sarah Ludford, as part of a cross-party group, tabled the 'Written Declaration' because "MEPs believe a ban on demonstration of personal faith to be an infringement of human rights, in particular those guaranteed in Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights".

Sarah Ludford, European justice spokeswoman for the Liberal Democrats said: "Blanket national bans like the French one instituted in the name of secularism may be well-intentioned, but they fail to acknowledge individual identity and the diversity of Europe's population. It would be unhelpful if similar action spread across the EU."

"The whole EU is debating how to promote integration, but as a Liberal Democrat I am clear that forced assimilation is not the answer. In a city as culturally and religiously diverse as London, this is a crucial issue."

Abeer Pharaon coordinator of the Muslim pressure group, Protect Hijab, which has worked with the London MEPs to develop the text of the declaration said: "We call on all MEPs to support the Written Declaration as a show of basic and fundamental freedoms and human rights. For the citizens of Europe this is a challenge for diversity and cultural integration in Europe. Let's lobby MEPs to sign in the next three months so the Declaration is adopted by the European Parliament.

A written declaration in the European Parliament is similar to an 'early day motion' at Westminster, a means for MEPs to make a political statement on a particular issue. To become a resolution debated in the Parliament, at least half of the MEPs must sign within 3 months, otherwise the Written Declaration lapses.

The text of the written declaration is available below and at:
http://www.unitedsikhs.org/rtt/rttdeclaration.htm

Issued by:
Mejindarpal Kaur
Director
UNITED SIKHS
Tel: 07940 703404


0005/2005

Written declaration on religious rights and freedoms in France and throughout the European Union

The European Parliament,

Having regard to Rule 116 of its Rules of Procedure,

  1. whereas religious freedom is one of the most basic and most precious freedoms endorsed by the European Union,
  2. alarmed at the rise of religiously motivated violence in many European countries, especially since 11 September 2001,
  3. deeply concerned at France's ban on what it calls the display of 'conspicuous religious symbols' in schools,
  4. believing this ban on the Christian cross, Jewish skullcap, Muslim hijab, and Sikh turban to be an infringement of human rights, in particular Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights,
  5. considering that gender equality is a fundamental right, and reaffirming the rights of men and women to dress as they wish,
    1. Calls on Member States specifically to allow within educational and other state establishments the outward _expression in a private manner of individual faith;
    2. Urges the French Government to rethink its ban and investigate ways of improving the opportunities for religious as well as racial minorities to integrate more fully into French society, including through the combating of religious discrimination;
    3. Considers that a debate on this subject should be held in the European Parliament;
    4. Instructs its President to forward this declaration, together with the names of the signatories, to the Commission, the Council and the governments of the Member States.

For more information on the Right to Turban campaign, please link to:
http://www.unitedsikhs.org/rtt/


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