the Lithuanian parliament buildingLithuania lawmakers
ended their year by amending a law on the protection of minors that
had been condemned as “homophobic” by the European Parliament and
other international bodies. But they did so in a way that strengthens
and clarifies legal restrictions on public information which is out
of synch with human dignity and family values. The small Baltic
nation thus once again stands out for boldness among European states,
such as Ireland and Italy, which are resisting the imposition of
secularist policies by European Union bodies.

The new legislation,
adopted by the parliament in Vilnius on December 22, eliminates a
clause banning the promotion among minors of “homosexual, bisexual,
and polygamous relations”, replacing it with a ban on public
information “that encourages [any type of] sexual relations among
minors that denigrates family values or that promotes any concept of
marriage and the family other than that defined in the Lithuanian
Constitution and Code of Civil Law” (which states that marriage is
between a man and a woman). The amendments also make clear that the
legal restrictions apply to education, the media, advertising and all
other types of public information.

“Lithuania is a European state that holds to traditional ethical values which it has no intention of abandoning.” ~ Irena Degutiene, chair of Lithuanian parliament

The law, first
adopted in July
, limits a
wide range of public information considered harmful to young people,
including graphic violence, instructions on how to make explosives,
presentation of drug use in a positive light, pornography, ridiculing
and discriminating against people or groups on the basis of their
race, religion, social status or sexual orientation, and “the
encouragement of behavior that degrades human dignity”.

Its original text –
with its specific reference to homosexuals – drew swift accusations
of “homophobia” and human rights violations by Amnesty
International and some EU diplomats. This led in September to a
resolution
of the European Parliament

which condemned the law as discriminatory. They even proposed
sanctions against the Baltic EU member state.

Lithuania responded
by asking the European Court of Justice to declare that resolution
null and void, as an unlawful intrusion into a democratic country’s
legislative sovereignty. Surprisingly, the court agreed that the
European Parliament had overstepped the bounds of its competence.

The chair of the
Lithuanian parliament, Irena Degutiene, hopes that the values on
which Lithuania has chosen to base its family and social policy might
become an example for other European nations. “Lithuania is a
European state that holds to traditional ethical values which it has
no intention of abandoning,” Degutienė said in a statement. “Going
against the flow of strict cultural and ethical libertarianism in the
European Union is not popular. But I am convinced that by resisting
the sometimes insistent pressure to forsake principles and values
with a proven ability to guide the life of society, we in fact will
come out the winners.”

Other European
countries have also made the news recently for efforts to defend
their values against EU institutions. Ireland, for example, in June
forced EU leaders to guarantee in a series of written
“assurances”
that the
union’s new Lisbon Treaty, which increases the weight of EU law
relative to national legislation, would not override pro-life clauses
in the Irish Constitution nor prejudice Ireland’s traditional policy
of military neutrality.

Nonetheless, shortly
after Irish voters approved the Lisbon Treaty in an October
referendum, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg agreed
to hear the case of three women seeking to overturn Ireland’s laws
defending human life from the moment of conception. The women, who
say they were forced to go abroad for abortions, argue that Irish law
violates the European Convention on Human Rights by jeopardizing
their “right to health and well-being”. The court is expected to
rule on the case
within the next 12 months.

The Italian
government, meanwhile, is appealing a November ruling
by the same European court which ordered the removal of crucifixes
from public school classrooms in the country on the grounds that such
religious symbols “restricted the right of parents to educate their
children in conformity with their convictions, and the right of
children to believe or not to believe.” At the same time, the
Italian
Constitutional Court
has
issued a decision of its own stating that where rulings by the
European Court of Human Rights conflict with provisions of the
Italian Constitution, such rulings “lack legitimacy” and
will not be enforced.

Russia, while not a
member of the EU, has also been speaking out internationally in
defense of moral values in public life. As MercatorNet
reported
, at recent United
Nations meetings the Russian government has promoted pro-natalism
rather than population control and resisted attempts to get “sexual
orientation” and “gender identity” language embedded in human
rights instruments. The Russian Orthodox Church, for its part, is
campaigning actively to defend traditional values against modern
liberalism in Europe, inviting the Catholic Church form an alliance
for this end.

“It is a matter of
concern that morality is emasculated in the theory of human rights,
while interdependence of moral principles and human rights is not put
into question by the authors of the concept, which is reflected in
universal and European documents,” Patriarch Kirill of Moscow
stressed in a letter this month to Council of Europe Secretary
General Thorbjørn Jagland. “It is our conviction that neglect of
moral aspects in implementing human rights threatens to undermine the
very concept of rights and freedoms which has become one of the
achievements of modern history,” Kirill continued.

In this context,
Lithuania’s daring defense of moral values in public life could be
seen as a promising international trend. The revised Law on the
Protection of Minors, which was based on proposals by President Dalia
Grybauskaitė and the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Andrius
Kubilius, even won a few opposition votes. The government is also
currently working to revoke a rule that, since Soviet times, has
required all medical students specializing in gynecology to learn and
practice how to perform abortions.

Interestingly
enough, the generally critical media coverage of such issues and
conversations with the man in the street all suggest that there been
no major shift in society’s views. The change rather, seems to be,
that people with values are getting tired of being silenced and
excluded from public debate, and they are learning to make their
voices heard and felt. Naturally, those voices are coming to the
surface, and attracting media attention, in some places more than in
others. But the trend is growing and offers hope that the days of the
“dictatorship of relativism” in public policy may well already be
numbered.

Bryan P. Bradley is an
American-born freelance writer based in Vilnius, Lithuania, where he
has lived and worked since 1994. He has reported on economic,
political and cultural issues in the Baltic region for a number of
international news agencies, including Bloomberg and Reuters.