Since 2016, Ján Figeľ, a Slovak politician and former European Commissioner, has served as the “Special Envoy for the Promotion of Freedom of Religion or Belief outside the European Union” for the European Commission. It is a role he has fulfilled admirably by all accounts. Today, the International Organization for the Family (IOF) is joining with many other groups in calling for his re-appointment to the position with a new petition.
The petition is directed at the President of the European Commission, Ms. Ursula von der Leyen.
The mandate formally ended in 2019, and since then, groups like IOF have had a sense of increasing anxiety while awaiting an announcement for his re-appointment. The new petition aims to encourage the European Commission to act quickly in filling such a vital position, as needed now as ever, as many observers warn about the curtailment of religious freedom rights seen in many countries as part of the response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Figeľ has been a powerful force for protecting persecuted religious individuals and minority populations around the world. Part of his effectiveness stems from his unique candor and wit. For example, he once called for increased « religious literacy » in the age of digital literacy, noting how global solidarity for religious communities lags behind other trends of globalization. In the same remarks, he shrewdly linked the « roots of the refugee crisis » — a problem so much remarked upon — with the less-often spoken about problem of religious persecution, which helped to position the global concern of religious liberty within a broader human rights context and within a paradigm of technological advancement, thus appealing to a larger network of concerned parties.
In a similar vein, in his widely publicized final report from December of 2019 before his mandate entered limbo, Figeľ strikingly called for a « climate change on the issue of religious freedom. » His point was that the issue of religious liberty is a basic human concern, global and inter-generational in scope, not merely one among so many « special interests. »
Despite his excellent work in his few short years of office, threats to religious freedom globally have only grown in recent years—but this only signals that the role of Special Envoy is more important than ever.
iFamNews encourages our readers to sign the petition urging the reinstatement of Figeľ’s office and his re-appointment to the position. While countries scramble to combat the threat of a silently spreading pestilence in Covid-19, leaders must not forget the equally silent by no less grave threat posed by growing religious intolerance.