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ADF International Steps in After European City Shuts Down Conservative Conference

A mayor in Brussels ordered police to shut down a conservative conference because he disagreed with the organizers’ beliefs.
Grant Atkinson
Written by
Police block Paul Coleman from entering NatCon

The European Union claims to be based on respect for fundamental freedoms. And the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights protects freedoms such as freedom of thought, religion, assembly, expression and information.

Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights is also explicit in its protection of the basic human right to speech, stating, “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.”

These promises make the blatant attack against the freedoms of speech and assembly that occurred at the very heart of the EU particularly alarming.

Brussels mayor sends police to censor speech

National Conservatism is an organization that stresses the importance of nations and their traditions. It hosts multiple conferences each year (often referred to as NatCon), and its most recent conference was slated to take place in Brussels from April 17-18, 2024.

Various politicians and other public figures were invited to speak at NatCon in Brussels, including ADF International Executive Director Paul Coleman. But the event faced multiple censorship setbacks.

The first two venues that were supposed to host NatCon canceled the event after pressure from authorities. Organizers finally found a third venue that agreed to host the conference, but shortly after it had begun on April 17, the mayor of the Saint-Josse-ten-Noode district in Brussels ordered police to shut it down.

The order said that NatCon must be canceled because its “vision is not only ethically conservative (e.g. hostility to the legalisation of abortion, same-sex unions, etc.) but also focused on the defense of ‘national sovereignty,’ which implies, amongst other things, a ‘Eurosceptic’ attitude…”
Alliance Defending Freedom
Alliance Defending Freedom
State police block the entrance to NatCon in Brussels.

Even though NatCon had not caused any threats to the surrounding area, the order said it needed to be banned “to avoid foreseeable attacks on public order and peace.” This dishonest tactic to censor speech is known as a heckler’s veto.

“This is the definition of cancel culture,” Coleman said while standing outside the event. “This is the state of free speech in Europe.”

Freedom must be protected

ADF International worked around the clock to lead an emergency legal challenge to the censorship, and at 2:30 a.m., the highest court in Belgium issued a favorable ruling for free speech that allowed the conference to resume. Still, the incident underscores the tenuous state of free speech in Europe.

“In allowing the National Conservatism Conference to continue, the Administrative Court has come down on the side of basic human rights,” Coleman said.

“While common sense and justice have prevailed, what happened yesterday is a dark mark on European democracy. No official should have the power to shut down free and peaceful assembly merely because he disagrees with what is being said.”

Unfortunately, attacks on free speech are happening all over Europe. In Finland, for example, ADF International is defending member of parliament Päivi Räsänen against charges of “hate speech” for posting a Bible verse. Although Päivi has twice been unanimously acquitted of any wrongdoing in lower courts, she will now stand trial a third time for her Bible-verse tweet, now at the Finnish Supreme Court. 

At the same time, the court ruling in Brussels demonstrates that government officials are not immune from the law. ADF International will continue working to advance freedom for all people in Europe and around the world who simply want to speak what they believe.

Grant Atkinson serves as Jr. Digital Writer at Alliance Defending Freedom
Grant Atkinson
Digital Writer
Grant serves as a Digital Writer at Alliance Defending Freedom.