Here’s an interesting vignette from EUobserver:
Brussels is to hold an EU summit with atheists and freemasons in the autumn, inviting them to a political dialogue parallel to the annual summit the bloc holds with Europe’s religious leaders.
While the EU is a secular body, the three European presidents, of the commission, parliament and EU Council, alongside two commissioners, on Monday met with 24 bishops, chief rabbis, and muftis as well as leaders from the Hindu and Sikh communities. The annual dialogue, which has taken place since 2005, is for the first time this year made legally obligatory under Article 17 of the Lisbon Treaty.
Hey, I remember Article 17. I remember the perpetually angry Terry Sanderson waxing wroth about this requirement for a dialogue, and characterised it as proof that the EU was being overwhelmed by the forces of theocracy. I worry about Terry’s blood pressure, if Eurocrats having an annual cup of tea with bishops and rabbis has this sort of effect on him.
Under pressure from Belgium, which constitutionally protects and financially supports humanist organisations as well as churches, the EU has been forced to hold a mirror-image summit, but of atheists, scheduled for 15 October.
Those wacky Belgians, eh? Not just them, either – we may mention Britain’s own DCLG granting a £25,000 subsidy to the British Humanist Association to give lectures on religious tolerance under the “Faith Communities Capacity Building Fund”. Would it be facetious to wonder about separating atheism from the state? Perhaps it would. Anyway, I have a bit of a soft spot (only a bit of one, mind) for the good old BHA – they don’t have the foam-flecked, swivel-eyed aspect of their deadly rivals the NSS – so we’ll let that pass. So let’s get to what is annoying the atheists:
However, in a move that perplexed and annoyed humanist groups, the EU atheist summit will also welcome under the rubric of ‘non-religious groups’, the Freemasons, the secretive fraternal organisation, according to commission spokeswoman Katharina von Schnurbein.
Why is this perplexing? If the Belgians could stiff-arm the Eurocrats into having a summit with atheists, one presumes the Masons were invited to placate the Masonic-controlled government of Italy. And let’s face it, it can’t be any sillier than having Berlusconi at a European Council. Always assuming that Berlusconi himself isn’t one of the Masonic delegates, which he may well be.
According to the commission’s Ms von Schnurbein, Brussels views the Freemasons as a “community of conscience interconnected throughout Europe,” and “a form of humanist organisation.”
She dismissed concerns that while churches and atheist groups are free for anyone to join, membership in the Freemasons, a private organisation of men, with some separate Grand Lodges for women, is by invitation only and requires initiation fees and an annual subscription.
I think Ms von Schnurbein has a point. I’ve rarely been in a church that didn’t have a collection, and if you want to be in the National Secular Society you have to send nineteen quid to Terry Sanderson. Moreover, many religious denominations – the orthodox Jewish community comes to mind – have very strict procedures for allowing people to join.
So the question is whether Terry and Keith, those valiant opponents of public money funding anything vaguely religious, will sign up for a jolly in Brussels at the EU’s expense. Well, of course they will – they do plenty in Europe as it is. And it does mean their campaign to stop hospital chaplains bringing comfort to the sick can be rolled out on an international scale. I suppose one has to salute their chutzpah.