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The President of the Luxembourg Alliance of Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics (AHA) faces a possible prison sentence and a lawsuit for €30,000 in “damages”, after the term “religious fanatics” appeared in a single post on the organization’s Facebook page.

Facebook post: "AHA has today given a document shredder to the Education Minister Claude, so that he can more easily manage the deluge of post from religious fanatics, who continue to insist that religious indoctrination should be perpetuated in public schools. Please share this post, so that people don't continue to waste paper."

The offending Facebook post by Allianz vun Humanisten Atheisten & Agnostiker (AHA), which in Luxembourgish says: “AHA has today given a document shredder to the Education Minister Claude [Meisch], so that he can more easily manage the deluge of post from religious fanatics, who continue to insist that religious indoctrination should be perpetuated in public schools. Please share this post, so that people don’t continue to waste paper.”

The message, posted 10 December 2015, referred in the abstract to unnamed groups –which are lobbying for confessional instruction in state-funded schools – as “religious fanatics”.

The case was brought by three individual complainants, none of whom was named in the Facebook post. All are leading members of the reactionary pressure group Fir de Choix, which also was not named in the Facebook post. The complainants are claiming €10,000 each for “defamation”.

Extraordinarily, the State Prosecutor has backed the call for prosecution against Laurent Schley, president of the AHA, and is pushing for a two-month suspended jail term. The verdict is expected on 16 June.

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) has called the prosecution “a violation of freedom of expression and opinion”, and is calling for the case to be dropped.

Background

Fir de Choix is an online campaign set up to overturn a government decision to reform religious education in state schools. The coalition government is committed to removing confessional instruction, previously provided by the Catholic Church in state-funded schools, in favour of a new ethics course based on critical thinking and common values, in which all children can be taught side-by-side together.

Fir de Choix was set up to oppose this move. Last year the group asked supporters to send postcards to the Minister of Education, Claude Meisch, demanding the “choice” to subject children to religious instruction classes under the exclusive control of the Catholic Church.

The AHA met with the Minister in December 2015 and jokingly gave him a document shredder to help him dispose of protest letters including hatemail received in response to the secularization programme. A photo of the meeting was posted on the organization’s Facebook page, along with a general reference to opposition by “religious fanatics”.

The complainants from Fir de Choix claim that the term “religious fanatic” exposed them personally to public contempt. The three non-fanatics have demanded that Laurent Schley be jailed and fined. The State Prosecutor could have declined to take the case further, but instead recommended a two-month suspended sentence.

Comment

IHEU President Andrew Copson said:

“That the president of an organization can be dragged to court and threatened with jail and massive fines, merely because the organizational Facebook page referred vaguely to their opponents on a public affairs matter as “fanatical”, is highly concerning. In fact, for these complainants to respond to a single throwaway comment which makes no personal accusation by demanding massive damages, can only be described as fanatical!

“If lobbyists demand a privileged right to subject children in state-funded schools to a church-run programme instructing them in one religion, then to describe such groups as “fanatical” is clearly a legitimate opinion. Others must be free to express this opinion. The prosecution against Laurent Schley is a clear violation of freedom of expression and opinion.”

IHEU calls on the courts to throw out the case, and calls on the government to reaffirm its commitment to inclusive, secular education, and to defend vigorously the right of everyone to freedom of expression.

More News from IHEU

10 Responses to Luxembourg humanists sued for massive “damages”, could face prison, over a Facebook post

  1. Sieg Linde says:

    This just simply stinks.
    Shame on that Judge!

  2. Stanley Fila says:

    The prosecutor in this case needs to be removed from office…does this prosecution meet European Community standards?

    • Perhaps an international petition to remove the prosecutor from office would get the signal heard ? Michel Virard, Montreal, Canada

  3. Alex Slater says:

    Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right. Anybody is equally free to question and debate another’s viewpoint. A court of law convened to decide whether the term “fanatic” is defamatory seems to be answering that question by its own existence. For the state prosecutor to initially rule on the side of the complainant speaks volumes about how difficult the Luxembourg legislature is finding it to push its secular education policy and how change needs to be implemented in a top-down fashion.

  4. John Smith says:

    Accusations of libel and slander in much of Europe are very different than in the USA. In the USA the burden of proof is on the person bringing the action. In much of Europe, the defendant must prove that s/he did NOT defame or otherwise injure the person whose feelings were hurt. Bizarre . . .

  5. John says:

    It is difficult for us to understand European Law, as opposed to UK common law, civil law and criminal law.
    Where we have an automatic assumption of innocence, in Europe it is – to some extent – the other way round.
    One thing that IHEU should do is support the President of the Luxembourg Alliance of Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics (AHA) as fully as possible, as this case could establish a regrettable precedent under which freedom of expression in Luxembourg could become fatally undermined.
    If I were in the President’s position, I would dare the system to actually jail me for 2 months – forget about any suspended sentencing. Afterwards, as a former political prisoner of conscience, he could tour the country as a victim of religion, raising a full-blooded campaign to get the law of freedom of expression changed, thus reinforcing the perception that freedom of expression is fully bound up with freedom FROM religion.

    • IHEU Admin says:

      Just for clarity on the abiguous “European Law”, it is the Luxembourg criminal code that is relevant here, not any EU or Europe-wide legislation.

      IHEU is in touch with AHA of course and we will be supporting however we can. The next milestone is the verdict.

  6. Steven Evans says:

    Now it actually sounds like the Fir de Choix group ARE “religious fanatic”. How is it they can “campaign” to force religion but others can never refute or oppose religion and the religious?

  7. Esther Ramos says:

    This sets a really worrying and absurd precedent. This must be challenged by all legal and rational means available.

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