God finds unexpected support in constitution debate

12-12-2003

Among the other issues on the table at Brussels was the heated question of whether to add a reference to Europe's Judeo Christian heritage to the constitution's preamble. Some states like secular France are strongly opposed. In staunchly Roman Catholic Poland, on the other hand, government and opposition have united in calling for a mention of God. Other countries in favour of a reference to Europe's Christian heritage are Ireland, Spain, Italy and, perhaps surprisingly, the Czech Republic.

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK Church bells ring out in a Prague suburb, as small groups of mostly older people make their way to mass. However, such people are distinctly in the minority in the Czech Republic, where over half the population are not a member of any religion. Here's Jesuit priest, Josef Blaha.

"The Czech lands are the most atheistic in Europe. According to the census some thirty percent of Czechs say they are Catholics, but for example you have these funny people who when you ask them 'are you Catholic?' they say 'yeah, I'm Catholic'. 'And do you practice?'. 'Of course, I go to Mass every Christmas'. Some five, eight percent of Czechs are practising Catholics, some one percent are Protestants.'

Despite the Czech people's indifference to religion, the Czech Republic has joined such countries as Poland, Spain and Malta in demanding a reference in the EU constitution to the continent's Christian Heritage. Why? Ivo Slosarcik of the Prague-based think tank Europeum says the reasons are political, not spiritual.

"One of the parties in the coalition, the Christian Democratic Party, the People's Party, are the second biggest in the three-party government. But they are very influential and the minister of foreign affairs is from the People's Party. So that was one of the reasons why this reference occurred, because it was partially his mandate, from his party, to have it in the constitution."

So, Christian Democrat Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda has succeeded in forcing his party's policy onto the Czech Republic's list of demands.

Unfortunately for the government, most of the country's other demands seem to be a bit too complicated for many Czechs to understand, says Ivo Slosarcik. That perhaps explains why there has been some debate about the question of God in the EU constitution

"Much more coverage has been given to this Christian heritage issue than say to the redistribution of votes in the Council of Ministers, or the question of the transfer from unanimity to majority voting on some very crucial policies. This is much more complicated than just to say there's a reference to Christianity and the reason why it's given such big attention is really its simplicity."

Relatively simple the concept may be, but the fact the largely atheistic Czech Republic has been calling for a reference to Christianity in the constitution must count as one of the most curious aspects of the inter-governmental conference.

12-12-2003