Tuesday, December 7, 2004

Christians are bad. Comrades are good. That is the lesson of the recently concluded parallel process by which the European Union Commission and the European Parliament accepted Laszlo Kovacs of Hungary as a European commissioner while vociferously rejecting Italy’s European affairs minister, Rocco Buttiglione, for his views on marriage and homosexuality.

The media describe Laszlo Kovacs as a “socialist.” In fact, he is a career communist with decades of totalitarian experience. Mr. Kovacs worked closely with the leadership of Janos Kadar’s sinister regime, installed literally over the dead bodies of the Hungarian democracy activists killed by Soviet tanks after the 1956 popular uprising against the Communist Party’s monopoly of power. Years before glasnost, Mr. Kovacs was one of the dictator’s henchmen with the title of “Deputy Head of the Department of International Relations” of the Hungarian Communist Party’s Central Committee.

Given that communist systems imprisoned, tortured and murdered millions of people, one might think Euro parliamentarians would be slightly concerned about how deeply Mr. Kovacs was involved in some of the darker aspects of Hungary’s communist dictatorship.

Just as searching questions were rightly asked of former Nazi Party members seeking public office in postwar Germany, they might have queried speeches Mr. Kovacs gave in the 1980s, attacking Western institutions such as NATO and extolling the Soviet Union as the bedrock of Eastern Europe’s “stability.”

Instead, the Euro MPs confined themselves to grumbling about Mr. Kovacs’ somewhat scanty knowledge of energy policy. Mr. Kovacs passed his confirmation hearings with flying colors and is now the EU taxation and customs commissioner.

Rocco Buttiglione never previously participated in a murderous regime. He is a worldly, mild-mannered, philosophy professor who can be defined as a classical liberal in the Acton-Tocqueville tradition. Yet Mr. Buttiglione was the focus of a tempest in the European Parliament. The same MPs who calmly evaluated the nomination of several ex-communists labeled Mr. Buttiglione a potential inquisitor, an intolerant zealot, and a stain on the political landscape. His views, they said, made him unfit for office.

All Professor Buttiglione did was articulate his beliefs and answer questions. A full reading of the confirmation hearings transcripts reveal a man with profound tolerance and a commitment to equality before the law and to the equal dignity of every individual. The transcripts also reveal his religious faith and his personal views on the family and homosexuality — views Mr. Buttiglione stressed would not affect his official duties. His opponents, however, began a public campaign and maliciously quoted the transcripts selectively to caricature Mr. Buttiglione as a homophobe who believes women should be in the home with children (ironically, Mr. Buttiglione’s wife is a successful working professional).

The transcripts (available online at www.acton.org/rb) show Mr. Buttiglione blundered by assuming his questioners were open to a mature discussion of his views, including his opinion — which, incidentally, is also taught by Christianity — that not all sins should be treated as criminal offenses.

The Euro MPs were not interested in such a discussion. Mr. Buttiglione was a target. He was “Borked” because he was not afraid to provide truthful answers about his personal beliefs even though those beliefs would have no role in his work. Mr. Buttiglione was Borked because faith in Europe is only acceptable if it is politically correct. Believing Christians have no place in Europe’s public square.

The breathtaking double standard of the past six weeks results from the rise of secularist fundamentalism. In the United States, secularist fundamentalism dominates academe, where speech codes are regularly used to harass any religious organization whose views on particular moral questions offend groups privileged by secular fundamentalism.

Secularist fundamentalism also rears its head in the political realm. For example, Attorney General John Ashcroft was the target of opposition for being a religious believer. The American Civil Liberties Union and a chorus of other opponents repeatedly told us Mr. Ashcroft would try to impose his religious beliefs or even seek a theocracy.

The secular fundamentalists do not care if the religious believer swears to uphold the law — all those with politically incorrect beliefs and faith must be persecuted and punished.

An example is Judge Bill Pryor, whose offense was admitting he is a practicing Catholic. Some religious views are not forbidden under secularist fundamentalism — provided the practitioners have solid left-wing credentials. Secular fundamentalists and their left-wing allies never complain about the involvement in public life of the Rev. Jesse Jackson or the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Europe and America both are witnessing a curious phenomenon of those who present themselves as guardians of tolerance committing terrible acts of intolerance in the name of tolerance. One need not be religious to regard this as a disturbing trend. The most effective way to combat the assault on religious liberty is through consistent public exposure and by rejecting the double standard. Anyone who desires genuine, open conversation in the public square should be on notice that secularist fundamentalism is rapidly infecting public life and that we sacrifice committed and worthy public servants if we allow witch hunts and Borking in the confirmation process.

Samuel Gregg is director of research at the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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