In his general audience on May 20th, Pope Francis reminded listeners that “an essential characteristic of the family” is its “natural vocation to educate children so they may grow up to be responsible for themselves and for others”. But today, he noted, an increasing number of so-called experts are assuming “the role of parents in even the most intimate aspects of education… And this is very grave! Today there are cases like this. I am not saying that it always happens, but there are cases”.
Among these cases are instances of children being taken away from their families by the state, for example, because their parents have decided to withdraw them from public schools and home school them. That’s where Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) comes into the picture.
The Alliance Defending Freedom is an international alliance of lawyers that works to ensure that Christians around the world are able to freely express and live out their beliefs without fear of censure, in particular through their involvement (with a notable record of success) in cases heard at the European Court of Human Rights, the United Nations, and the Supreme Court of the United States. By providing crucial training, funding, and advocacy to lawyers and like-minded organizations, ADF develops far-reaching legal strategies in its offices in Vienna, Brussels, Geneva, New York City, Washington D.C., and Mexico City. Whether working with allies or through direct litigation, ADF strategically selects cases that will establish important legal precedents and forge a lasting impact. All of ADF legal services are provided on a pro bono basis.
Senior Counsel and ADF International Deputy Director Roger Kiska was recently in Rome and graciously spent time talking to CWR.
Kiska was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, son of Jozef Kiška, a well-known activist and public figure Winnipeg’s Slovak community who also served as the Honorary Consul of Slovakia in Winnipeg, from April 1994 to March 2012. The younger Kiska obtained undergraduate and graduate degrees in both religion and philosophy from University of Manitoba. He presently serves as a legal counsel and head of the ADF’s European operation and is based in Vienna, Austria, where he specializes in international litigation with focus on European law. Under his leadership, the global influence of ADF International has grown considerably. In addition to attaining Special Consultative status with the United Nations, ADF International is now also accredited with the Organization of American States, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the European Parliament, and the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency, where Kiska previously served as a member of the Advisory Panel. For ADF he has developed a network of allied attorneys in Europe, working together to litigate European cases that have a potential to impact ADF efforts in America. He is fluent in English and Slovak and holds dual citizenship Canadian and Slovak.
CWR: What is your professional background and what led you to joining ADF?
Roger Kiska: After earning my J.D. at Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbour, Michigan, I began my legal career in the Slovak Republic as an attorney with the firm of former Slovak Prime Minister Jan Čarnogursky. I have been admitted to the State Bar of Michigan and also passed the Solicitor’s Bar examinations for the United Kingdom.
Prior to joining Alliance Defending Freedom, I served as legal counsel and director of another religious liberty group, the European Centre for Law and Justice, based in Strasbourg in France. So I have been doing religious liberty litigation for 12 years. When I heard about ADF, I realized that for alliance building purposes it was something I could not afford to pass up. ADF is an organization which helps fund other lawyers who are doing this work. We really believe in working with other lawyers and then creating a movement defending marriage and family, the sanctity of life from conception to natural death, and religious liberty around the world, rather than working alone. This allows us to do more work, more cases, be more strategic, when necessary put other people in front, or the other way round, with us in front …
It has been an exciting opportunity to see ADF grow. When I started I was the only one manning our initial office in Bratislava (Slovakia) and now we have a Vienna headquarters with 35 staff members on the international team. We have just opened other new offices—in Geneva to work with the United Nations and in Brussels to work with the European Commission and European parliament. We also have existing offices that we opened in the last two years to work with the UN in New York and one in Washington, DC.
CWR: What is the purpose of your trip to Italy and Rome?
Roger Kiska: We are seeking to engage with the media here to shine a light on the fact that there is an erosion of religious freedom in Europe happening at the EU level, at the Council of Europe level; the family and its definition is under attack, and there is still a lot we can do regarding life at both ends, from conception to natural death and we hope to build an alliance with like-minded people here with whom we could cooperate both legislatively and litigation-wise. Whereas ADF has just opened a new office in Strasbourg, certainly also an office in Rome in under consideration, all the more so since its CEO is Roman Catholic and so is its deputy director international.
This cooperation is all more necessary in light of the legal threats looming over Europeans today following a number of significant human dignity and religious freedom cases recently heard before the European Court of Human Rights, given the tendency for hate speech laws to be misinterpreted in a way that impedes evangelisation. Within the European legal system illiberal or anti-life proposals—such as the radically pro-abortion 2013 Estrela Report—tend to originate within soft law, documents such as guidelines and directives which are not legally binding, but are still able to influence policy. If cited often enough, ideas found in these non-binding documents can permeate upwards into actual legislation; hence the importance of tackling them at the soft law level.
CWR: You also have an office in Mexico, which is a somewhat difficult area.
Roger Kiska: Our team in Mexico is exceptional, with Mexican staff and very well placed, especially in the pro-life and marriage debate. They have good contacts within the Supreme Court and I think they have done an amazing job in maintaining Catholic legislation, considering how strong the left is, at least in the elite circles there.
CWR: What is your most important victory so far?
Roger Kiska: I think the victory I am most proud would be Lautsi v. Italy. We represented 33 members of the European parliament from 13 nations to have that broad-based coalition of politicians …. To see in the Lower Chamber with a 7-0 judgement (and up the Grand Chamber was 15-2) …. And to see the resounding change in judgement among the court and to have worded a judgment that said the European court cannot bully nations, I think it was a huge achievement. I think that the court was right. The crucifix in Italy is part of the culture; it is more than just a religious symbol, it’s a unifying symbol and it was said well in court that if we rid the public squares of all crucifixes it means going as far as not having “God Save the Queen” in the United Kingdom, and getting rid of all these flags in Scandinavia with crosses on them—so it’s a ludicrous position.
CWR: And your least successful case or initiative?
Roger Kiska: It’s hard to say … We are having great difficulty in maintaining a strong definition of family in the European Court of Human Rights. So we are winning the cases on marriage redefinitions. The court has refused to extend marriage to anyone but a man and a woman; however, in their judgement they’ve been very weak in the definition of family. They think it’s a fluid term that can be changed by European consensus and so we need to work very, very hard in the coming months and years to ensure that the family stays as one man and one woman, with direct lineage based on parents, grandparents, mother and father, and not extended to some ludicrous area including artificial procreation and surrogacy.
CWR: A recent ADF video presentation exposes the case of a Swedish family being deprived of their child on charges of being “human rights fanatics”. Is it a newly forged accusation, like the old “people’s enemy” in the Soviet Union, or the more recent use of “homophobic” or “islamophobic”?
Roger Kiska: Yes. I don’t have children but I think I should worry because I am probably a human rights fanatic as well! To put it frankly, that is the most surreal, ridiculous case I have ever been involved in. To be honest, the Swedish system is broken; they don’t like Christians, and their belief that [they can] put someone with a family they think is better, that it is in the best interest of the child, is not a legal standard. It is thoroughly illegal standard, if anything. We are still working very hard for the family and we’ll be traveling to Sweden soon to give testimony in the Swedish court regarding the case and we are so hopeful that the pressure applied through this Strasbourg case will result into a quick unification.
CWR: Many are very concerned, and rightly so, about persecution and harassment of Christians in Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, and Nigeria, but what about the allegedly civilized and democratic western world?
Roger Kiska: We hear about martyrdom and persecution in a large part of the world, for example in Syria and Iraq; that is something we need to really act on, to focus our attention on. but what we don’t talk about as much is the fact that there really is a strong sense of intolerance and discrimination towards Christians here in Europe. That people throughout Europe are losing their jobs because of the positions they take following their conscience, and it’s something we need really to talk about, to open up to as a society. Perhaps not here in Italy, but in Scandinavia, in United Kingdom, in Germany, we are seeing more and more that this radical secularism is creeping into the dominant culture. The idea of separation of church and state is to remove all things Christian from the public square … And this process is unfolding very quickly.
CWR: Could there be any connection between what you have just said and the fight against Islamist terrorism?
Roger Kiska: What we are seeing is that indeed governments are using the Islam problem to also reduce the freedom of Christians within Europe. They will say we need to limit freedom of expression or freedom of religion because of Islamic terrorism, because of Islamic fundamentalism, and they have been using that also to cut back on the right of Christians to express themselves in the public square.
I think that where we see this most is in education, and especially parental rights, the rights to have confessional schools, Christian schools, in several countries in Europe they are now under attack they will have a national curriculum and remove all religious elements, the right to home education. That is what we see the most, and there have been government officials bold enough to say that the reason why they are doing this it is because of Islam.
CWR: Where these statements are coming from?
Roger Kiska: Mostly from Sweden at very high levels, and from Germany at lower administration levels, but we have heard those statements in Austria as well.
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