Free Speech Wins! Belgian Court Overturns Ban on Conservative Conference

Cardinal Müller told author Rod Dreher that the attempt to shut down the conference was ‘like Nazi Germany.’

Father Benedict Kiely, founder of Nasarean.org, speaks during a panel discussion on Day 2 of The National Conservatism Conference at the Claridge on April 17, 2024 in Brussels, Belgium. The gathering continued into its second day after Brussels authorities previously tried to cancel the event.
Father Benedict Kiely, founder of Nasarean.org, speaks during a panel discussion on Day 2 of The National Conservatism Conference at the Claridge on April 17, 2024 in Brussels, Belgium. The gathering continued into its second day after Brussels authorities previously tried to cancel the event. (photo: Omar Havana / Getty)

BRUSSELS — Belgium’s highest court ruled late last night that a conference upholding conservative values in the public square could go ahead in the country’s capital after a Brussels district mayor had ordered police to shut it down yesterday. 

Emir Kir issued the order to halt the National Conservatism conference that was scheduled to take place April 16-17 and which featured among its speakers the Vatican’s former doctrinal chief, Cardinal Gerhard Müller. 

Police surrounded the venue on Tuesday, denying access to speakers and guests. 

The conference, organized by the Edmund Burke Foundation, a public affairs institute, aims to promote conservatism as “inextricably tied” to the idea of nation, national independence, and the revival of national traditions. 

The event has been held in various capitals including Rome, London, and Washington since its founding in 2019. 

Among other speakers at this year’s conference were Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Britain’s former Home Secretary Suella Braverman, and the founder of the Brexit Party, Nigel Farage. The British politician called the attempted shut down “a disgrace” and accused the EU of becoming the “new form of communism.”

Kir said he took the decision because the conference’s vision “is not only ethically conservative (e.g. hostility to the legislation of abortion, same-sex unions etc.) but also focused on the defense of ‘national sovereignty,’ which implies among other things, a ‘Eurosceptic attitude.’” 

His order also stated that some of the speakers “are reputed to be traditionalists” and that the conference must be banned “to avoid foreseeable attacks on public order and peace.”

Prior to Kir’s attempted shutdown, political pressure had already forced the organizers to cancel two other venues shortly before the conference had begun, after which they found a third hotel venue, called Claridge, located in Kir’s district. 

Cardinal Müller told the author Rod Dreher, who was also speaking at the conference, that the attempt to shut down the conference was “like Nazi Germany” and that the authorities were acting “like the SA” — Hitler’s brownshirts who used violence and intimidation against opponents.  

The attempted forced cancellation also drew opposition from Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander De Croo who defended the rights of the conference participants to freedom of speech and of assembly. 

Writing on X before the court’s decision, he called the attempted shut down “unacceptable” and that “banning political meetings is unconstitutional. Full stop.”

The Belgian court overturned Kir’s decision after the order was challenged by conference organizers with the support of ADF International, a Christian legal group that works to oppose threats to religious liberty. 

Paul Coleman, executive director of ADF International, said that while “common sense and justice” had prevailed, the attempt to shut down the conference was 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,” he said in a statement. “The kind of authoritarian censorship we have just witnessed belongs in the worst chapters of Europe’s history.” 

Belgian ADF lawyer Wouter Vaassen called the attempt to shut down the conference “unjust” and that it “should never have happened, especially in Brussels—the political heart of Europe.” 

“We must diligently protect our fundamental freedoms lest censorship become the norm in our supposedly free societies,” he added.

Along with Cardinal Müller, other Catholic speakers at this year’s event included Father Benedict Kiely, founder of Nasarean.org that helps persecuted Christians, the German aristocrat, Princess Gloria von Thurn and Taxis, and Gladden Pappin, president of the Hungarian Institute of International Affairs.

Another speaker, the Jewish author and broadcaster Melanie Phillips, told the audience that she was in Jerusalem on Saturday night when Iran launched aerial attacks on Israel. 

“At 2 am, the air raid siren wailed, and I huddled in my stairwell for safety,” she recounted. “Well, I left a war zone to come here. I didn't realize that I was coming into another war zone in Brussels.” 

The Supreme Court is seen in Washington on Dec. 4.

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