Posts Tagged ‘state’

Where Irreligious Trends Lead After Decades

By Edward Pentin

ROME, JAN. 12, 2012 (Zenit.org).- To see how disturbing a secularist and increasingly irreligious society can become, one need only look to Sweden.

Abortion has been free on demand and available without parental consent in the country since 1975, resulting in the Nordic nation having the highest teenage abortion rate in Europe (22.5 per 1,000 girls aged 15-19 in 2009).

Swedish law does not in any way recognize the right to conscientious objection for health care workers (last year, the Swedish parliament overwhelmingly passed an order instructing Swedish politicians to fight against the rights of doctors to refuse to participate in abortion).

Meanwhile, sex education is graphic and compulsory, beginning at the age of six, and children from kindergarten age are taught cross-dressing and that whatever feels good sexually is OK. The age of consent is 15.

“We have so many violations of human dignity on so many levels, and so many problems when it comes to social engineering,” explained Johan Lundell, secretary-general of the Swedish pro-life group Ja till Livet. “This has been going on for the past 70 years.”

Lundell was a guest of ours recently at the Dignitatis Humanae Institute (Institute for Human Dignity) where he laid out a catalogue of offenses against human dignity in Swedish society. “We have the highest teenage abortion rate in Europe. Why? Because we say abortion is a human right, it doesn’t kill anything, just takes away a pregnancy,” he said. “And after 20 years of this, young people don’t care any more. Why should they? For 10 to 15 years no one has even said abortion should be legal but rare.”

Its sex education program, seen by some social liberals as groundbreaking but others as far too explicit, has been given by some as the principal reason for a low teenage pregnancy rate. But the high number of abortions among that age group are rarely discussed, nor are the figures disclosed. “No one talks about child abortions,” said Lundell. “They’re ashamed of them. Yet we’re the only country in Europe where there’s abortion on demand, there are no formal procedures, no parental consent, no informed consent.”

Nor are the number of rapes in Sweden widely known or advertised. Yet according to Lundell, over the past 50 years — during this era of loose sexual mores — they have risen by “1,000 percent.”

Lundell further noted that all other countries want to reduce the number of abortions, yet despite having 550 different government departments in Sweden, none has a mission to lower the number of terminations. “Children can see this is wrong, parents can see it’s wrong, and as a society we don’t want it and yet no one talks about it,” Lundell added. “It’s absurd.”

He said that Sweden should “definitely” be taken as a warning to other countries pursuing secularist, socially liberal policies “because then you can see what the agenda is for people, and how the European Union and the United Nations are copying these Scandinavian ideas.”

Returning to the subject of sex education, Lundell said Swedes generally don’t bother any more trying to argue that homosexuality is genetic– a common argument used to promote the same-sex agenda — because the movement is now so fully accepted that it no longer needs this argument as a support. “In sex education books, they don’t talk about someone being heterosexual or homosexual — there are no such things because for them everyone is homosexual,” he said.

Lundell referred to a brochure for children published by same-sex associations, and printed with the help of financing by the state. “They write positively about all kinds of sexuality, every kind, even the most depraved sexual acts, and it goes into all schools,” he explained. “The information is put on Web sites, and school children are told about the Web sites so they can see it.” Teachers, he said, are encouraged to ask students “What turns you on?” yet Lundell pointed out that if the chief executive of a company asked that at a business meeting, he’d be fired. “It would be sexual harassment,” he said. “And yet you train people to do this to children?”

Some parents have made formal complaints, branding it as carnal knowledge, too candid for the classroom and labeling the lessons as “vulgar” and “too advanced.” But the majority acquiesce to the curriculum, while the option to homeschool children is almost forbidden.

Yet to many outsiders, Sweden’s popular image is of a fair, ordered, just and harmonious society — the model example of a functioning welfare state. In many cases this is true if one looks at infant mortality rates, life expectancy, standard of health care and access to education. The level of poverty is also relatively low.

“It’s long been said that if it is not possible to bring about a socialist world in Sweden, then it’s not possible anywhere,” said Lundell. “That’s why some have tried to make it into a socialist paradise. But unlike in, say, Italy or Greece, in Sweden it’s not about the socialism of finances but rather the socialism of families — social engineering, which has been much more visible here than in southern Europe.”

Per Bylund, a Swedish fellow at the Von Mises Institute, once described the all encompassing power of the state thus: “A significant difference between my generation and the preceding one is that most of us were not raised by our parents at all. We were raised by the authorities in state daycare centers from the time of infancy; then pushed on to public schools, public high schools, and public universities; and later to employment in the public sector and more education via the powerful labor unions and their educational associations. The state is ever-present and is to many the only means of survival — and its welfare benefits the only possible way to gain independence.”

Yet this social engineering has had dire consequences. Few European countries have witnessed such a rapid decline in the institution of marriage, nor such an expeditious rise in abortion. During the 1950s and first half of the 1960s, the marriage rate in Sweden was historically at its peak. Suddenly, the rate started dropping so quickly that it saw a decrease of about 50% in less than 10 years. No other country experienced such a rapid change.

Between 2000 and 2010, when the rest of Europe was showing signs of a reduction in annual abortion rates, the Swedish government says the rate increased from 30,980 to 37,693. The proportion of repeat abortions rose from 38.1% to 40.4% — the highest level ever — while the number of women having at least four previous abortions increased from 521 to approximately 750.

With the exception of a few stalwart campaigners such as Lundell, most Swedish Christians — and particularly Christian politicians — remain silent in the face of the countless social violations against human dignity. Little resistance is also given to attacks on religious freedom for Christians, with priority increasingly being given to Sharia law.

Judging by the figures, it could almost be said the faith has packed up altogether. At the end of 2009, 71.3% of Swedes belonged to the Lutheran Church of Sweden — a number that has been decreasing by about one percentage point a year for the last two decades. Of them, only around 2% regularly attend Sunday services. Indeed, some studies have found Swedes to be one of the least religious people in the world and a country with one of the highest numbers of atheists. According to different studies carried out in the early 2000s, between 46% and 85% of Swedes do not believe in God.

Lundell said that although small, the Catholic Church has a good bishop and is helped by immigrants from Poland and Latin America. But Catholics are generally seen as outsiders with little influence and they are wary of overtly campaigning or being seen as “too tough,” he said. Even Pentecostals are reticent to raise objections. “They are probably the only Pentecostal church in the world that doesn’t,” he added.

But despite all this, Lundell, whose organization is attracting a growing number of young people, remains hopeful — and he remains ultimately loyal to his home country. “I’m so proud of Sweden I can’t imagine moving away,” he said. “But I am ashamed of the politics when it comes to the family, sexual politics and restrictions on freedom of religion.”

“Whole parts of society aren’t Sweden any more,” he added. “So we will fight, and we will do so with more eagerness than ever.”

Edward Pentin is a freelance journalist and Communications Director at the Dignitatis Humanae Institute. He can be reached at epentin@zenit.org.

United States Publishes Annual Survey

By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, SEPT. 23, 2007 (Zenit.org).- There has been progress toward reducing religious persecution and discrimination in the world, according to the latest annual report from the U.S. State Department.

The “2007 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom” was published Sept. 14. The 800-page report covers the 12-month period up to June 30, 2007.

During the press conference held to present the report, John V. Hanford III, ambassador at large for international religious freedom, said that regarding the freedoms discussed in the report, much work still remains to be done “as far too many citizens of the world do not enjoy religious freedom.”

Hanford also defended the report against some criticisms made: “It’s important to note that our commitment to religious freedom is not an attempt to export simply an American approach to this issue.”

The ambassador pointed out that religious freedom is recognized as a basic human right by many international treaties, an obligation that many governments choose to ignore. “According to some estimates, half of the world’s people live under persecution or serious restriction of their religious freedom,” said Hanford.

During the press conference the question of Iraq was raised. The report itself admits that the turbulence and violence in Iraq impedes the government’s ability to protect religious freedom.

While the government itself is not generally involved in religious persecution the report does admit that some state institutions continue long-standing discriminatory practices against the Baha’i and Wahhabi Sunni Muslims.

Christian exodus

The State Department observed that the number of Christians in Iraq has suffered a sharp decline. The official census carried out in 1987 put at 1.4 million the number of Christians. By contrast, current estimates calculate the number of Christians at fewer than 1 million. In the 12-month period covered by the report at least 9 priests, along with other Christians, were kidnapped by Islamic extremists.

Terrorist attacks have made many mosques, churches, and other holy sites unusable, the report added, with many worshippers unable to attend religious services because of the threat of violence.

Saudi Arabia is another country with serious problems, according to the report. There is no legal recognition of religious freedom and the government continues to enforce a conservative interpretation of Sunni Islam.

“Scores of foreign workers and their family members were arrested for practicing their faith and deported,” the report stated.

There were, however, some small signs of improvement, according to the State Department. The Saudi government took some steps to review educational materials that attack other religions and measures were taken to control both extremist imams and the activities of the religious police, the mutawwa’in.

Nevertheless, the government continued to commit abuses of religious freedom, the report stated, with a number of people being detained for nonpublic, non-Muslim worship. There were also numerous reports of abuses by the mutawwa’in, against both Saudi citizens and foreigners.

Restrictions on conversion

Turning to Asia, the report commented that some state and local governments in India limit freedom of religion. So-called anti-conversion laws exist in some states. These laws place barriers on activity by minority religions that seek converts, and favor Hinduism. Four of India’s 28 states have such laws in force, and another two have enacted legislation that has not yet come into force due to the lack of regulations needed to implement the law.

What the report termed as “ineffective investigation and prosecution of attacks on religious minorities” has induced religious extremists to continue with violent actions.

The issue of conversion of Hindus or members of lower castes to Christianity remained highly sensitive, the report added. It also cited information from faith-based organizations, according to which there were at least 128 attacks against Christians in 2006. 

The situation is worse in neighboring Pakistan, where Islam is the state religion. The government took some steps to improve the situation of religious minorities in the past year, the report noted, but it added that serious problems still remain. 

Problems range from abuse by police committed against religious minorities, to discriminatory legislation and the failure by authorities to take action against extremists who intimidate members of minority religions.

During the period covered by the report authorities arrested at least 10 Christians on blasphemy charges. In fact, the report commented that freedom of speech is subject to “reasonable” restrictions in the interests of the “glory of Islam,” according to the country’s laws.

In addition, reports continue of forced conversions of religious minorities to Islam. With apostasy from Islam classified as a capital offense, the victim who is forced to convert is effectively trapped.

Growing tensions

One country where problems are on the rise is Venezuela. According to the report there were efforts by the government, motivated by political reasons, to limit the influence of the Catholic Church and missionary groups in some social and political areas. 

One instance cited occurred in January this year, when authorities announced they would withdraw the broadcast license of NCTV, a regional Catholic Church-affiliated network. An agreement was eventually reached that allowed the network to partially continue its activities. 

President Hugo Chavez, the report also noted, engaged in numerous rhetorical personal attacks against some Catholic bishops. He also warned the bishops to refrain from commenting on political issues.

Cuba, often taken by Chavez as a model, continues to lack religious freedom. According to the report, some religious figures who criticized the government’s totalitarian system in sermons were subjected to intense harassment. Security forces continued to carry out surveillance on people who worship in officially sanctioned churches, and in general the government “continued its efforts to maintain a strong degree of control over religion.”

The government continued to criticize the Catholic Church for refusing to register church and lay group publications with authorities. The Cuban conference of bishops, the report commented, has stated that the Church declines to register because registration would force it to cede control to the state regarding the content and format of church publications. In return, the state impedes access to printing by making equipment costly or placing restrictions on the sale of publications.

Catholic priests and other clergy were able to deliver sermons without advance screening by government censors, the report commented. Some of the sermons did make pointed criticisms, resulting in “intense harassment” by authorities against the clergy who dared to oppose the government.

Problems for minorities

In Russia, where the issue of human rights has come to the fore in recent times, conditions have improved for some religious minorities, according to the report. Nevertheless, obstacles continue due to the registration laws and a combination of xenophobia, racism and religious bigotry leads to discrimination against some groups.

This leads, for example, to difficulties in acquiring land or obtaining permits to build houses of worship. This particularly affects Protestant churches and non-Christian religions. The government also used counter-terrorism to commit serious violations of religious freedom against the Muslim population, the report added.

On a positive note the report said that racially motivated violent attacks against Jews decreased in the past year. Even so, anti-Semitism remained a serious problem, with reports of several anti-Semitic attacks on persons and synagogues.

While some improvements have occurred the report makes clear that religious freedom is still severely lacking in many countries.