by Peter Sprigg
September 9, 2009
When the World Congress of Families gathered in Amsterdam in the Netherlands last month, it was not considered friendly territory for the conservative, pro-family principles espoused by most of the international delegates. The city has museums devoted to sex and drugs, and its red-light district is treated as a major tourist attraction. Radical feminist groups decried the event, and the offices of one Dutch organization involved in planning for the WCF were even vandalized, with obscenities and anti-Christian slogans being painted on the walls. The Dutch media sought to stir up controversy over the participation in the Congress by several members of the Dutch parliament and one cabinet minister (who sent a video message the opening day). Five scheduled Dutch participants withdrew from the Congress shortly before it began over concerns that anti-gay messages would be promoted.
In the end, protests against the Congress mostly fizzled, and the delegates focused on issues such as the problem of depopulation in the countries of Europe. The Congress featured the European premiere of The Demographic Bomb (a sequel to the film Demographic Winter), which had its world premiere at Family Research Council on June 17.
Peter Sprigg and Pat Fagan represented Family Research Council at the event, with Dr. Fagan making two presentationsone at a breakout session on day care, and one major address on Family Diversity and Political Freedom. He spoke of how the culture of the traditional family, based on lifelong monogamy, is now being challenged by a competing culture rooted in a sexual ideal that is in some sense polyamorous, in that it is built on the expectation of multiple sexual partners through the life course. Dr. Fagan explained some of the political implications of these competing cultures, and offered a suggestion as to how they might be able to co-exist in a free society by insuring that all parents, of any viewpoint, have greater control over the education and upbringing of their own children.
Although liberals claim to place a high value on dialogue, one of the few who actually came to the Congress to engage in it was a Dutch judge and U.N. official, Jaap Doek, who defended the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CROC) and expressed dismay that the U.S. has failed to ratify it. Pro-family activists are concerned that the rights of children established by the treaty would undermine parental authority in the home, but Doek contended that it only imposes limits and obligations on the state, not upon parents.
Austin Ruse of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, or C-FAM (and the husband of FRCs Cathy Cleaver Ruse) offered a darker vision of the impact of the U.N. and international agreements. He delivered an address describing how radical elites have attempted to establish a right to abortion in international law. The soft law strategy involves inserting code words for abortion (such as reproductive health) in international documents and then asserting (falsely) that it is a matter of customary international law. The hard law strategy involves United Nations committees charged with monitoring compliance with actual international treaties and conventions. Although no right to abortion has ever been established in the text of such treaties, these committees will often tell member countries that they must protect such a right to be in compliance (for example, with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, or CEDAW). Ruse declared bluntly that such new norms are being forced upon nations undemocratically through treachery, lies, deceit and raw power.
At times it was striking how much people from different countries had in common. For example, at one session, an American state senator from Georgia, Nancy Schaefer, and a lawyer from Sweden, Ruby Harrold-Claesson, both decried the abuses sometimes engaged in by child protective services.
However, there was one notable difference evident in the way American conservatives and Europeans see pro-family policy. Most Americans take a more libertarian approach, believing that the best thing government can do for families is to stay out of their way. Yet it was evident that pro-family politicians from Europe and other countries see government intervention on behalf of the family as the best pro-family policy. For instance, Andre Rouveot, the Dutch cabinet minister who addressed the Congress by video, touted the creation of his Ministry for Youth and Families as a great step forward. Yet most American conservatives do not see the creation of a federal Department of Education as something that improved American education. Australian Member of Parliament Kevin Andrews discussed efforts by some countries to provide child care and family leave as pro-family because they make it easier for working women to become mothers; whereas many Americans would argue what is needed is to make it easier for mothers to stay home.
The Congress ended with the adoption of the Amsterdam Declaration, which cited as its touchstone the statement in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society, and is entitled to protection by society and the State. Several countries are already in contention for the honor of hosting the next World Congress of Families, which has clearly established itself as the premier international gathering of pro-family scholars and activists.