Rocco Buttiglione, Italy's Minister for European Affairs and nominee to the European Commission, was vociferously rejected by the EU for his views on marriage and sexuality. Buttiglione is in the United States as a guest of the Michigan-based Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty to receive the “Faith and Freedom” Award.
Buttiglione was the focus of a firestorm during his confirmation hearings in the European Parliament last month where he was falsely labeled a potential inquisitor and intolerant zealot. A full reading of the hearing transcripts reveals a man of tolerance with a commitment to equality before the law and to the equal dignity of every individual. Opponents to Buttiglione's candidacy, in the European government and media, began a public campaign and quoted him selectively in order to caricature Buttiglione as a sexist and homophobe.
“Rocco Buttiglione was the target of a malicious and profoundly unfair campaign that increasingly resembles the assault on religious liberty in America,” said Rev. Robert A. Sirico, President of the Acton Institute. “Buttiglione was borked because he articulated genuine answers to questions about his personal beliefs even though those beliefs would have no role in his work. There is a critical difference between a healthy separation of church and state and a radical secularism that denies all public manifestation of religion.”
Ten days ago, the tension between radical secularism and the separation of church and state became ever more apparent as a coalition of more than one million people from all over Europe signed a petition to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and fellow EU leaders calling for changes to the preamble of the European Constitution. The people requested that the EU recognize Europe's Christian heritage. Many state representatives had requested some reference to Christianity in the document but were blocked by Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the former French president, because such a reference would “exclude” and “offend.”
Poland's President, Aleksander Kwasniewski, denounced the “Godless” tone of the Constitution as shameful. He told the press: “I am an atheist and everybody knows it, but there are no excuses for making references to ancient Greece and Rome, and the Enlightenment, without making references to the Christian values which are so important to the development of Europe.”
“We are seeing something similar in America” said Sirico “especially in the last few weeks when numerous public intellectuals and journalists insist on describing the integration of faith, character, and morality as theocracy. Secularism is a value that religious leaders recognize but so much of the secularism that we see manifested in European and American public life is intolerant and anti-Christian.”
“There is a misguided sense that if religion influences the social and political decisions that Americans make, the values of tolerance and pluralism--rightly understood--will disappear,” he added “There is a struggle for religious freedom and everyone who values individual rights and equal dignity must become involved. There are no sidelines.”
The Acton Institute's Faith and Freedom Award recognizes Rocco Buttiglione as a person who has stood up for his beliefs and in favor of religious freedom. His case symbolizes attendant struggles in Europe and America. The award recognizes individuals who exemplify commitment to faith and freedom through leadership in civic, business, or religious life.
Mr. Buttiglione is the third recipient of the Faith and Freedom Award. The Award was first presented to Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen van Thuan, a Catholic priest who spent 13 years in a Vietnamese prison because of his faith. Sir John Templeton, one of modern history's stalwart defenders and promoters of freedom and faith, was the second person to receive this award.