U.S. conservative groups are shifting their attention
overseas this week, attending a conference in Poland that
will decry Europe's liberal social policies and
portray the host nation as a valiant holdout bucking
Congress of Families is expected to draw more than 2,500
people from dozens of countries to Warsaw's Palace of
Culture and Science from Friday through Sunday.
Cosponsors of the
congress include the American Family Association,
Concerned Women for America, the Family Research Council,
Focus on the Family, the Heritage Foundation, and the
Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which promotes the
''intelligent design'' concept of the universe's
origins. The U.S. groups are allied in opposition to
abortion, same-sex marriage, and other policies they
blame for weakening traditional families in Western
organizer is a Rockford, Ill.-based conservative
think tank, the Howard Center. ''Europe is almost
lost--to demographic winter and to the
secularists,'' says a planning document for the congress.
''If Europe goes, much of the world will go with it.
Almost alone, Poland has maintained strong faith and
Lech Kaczynski, who will address the congress, heads a
conservative government that has tangled frequently with
European Union officials over such issues as gay
rights and his nation's tough abortion laws. Last
month, after Polish officials proposed firing teachers who
"promote" homosexuality, the E.U. parliament asked its
antiracism center to examine ''the emerging climate of
racist, xenophobic, and homophobic intolerance in
president of the Howard Center and founder of the World
Congress of Families movement, acknowledges that social
trends in Western Europe give conservatives little
reason for optimism. Spain last year joined Belgium
and the Netherlands in legalizing same-sex marriage;
heavily Roman Catholic Portugal, one of few holdouts banning
abortion, last month legalized the procedure up to the
10th week of pregnancy.
''There are some
nations that are resisting the trends,'' said Carlson,
citing Croatia, Slovakia, and Latvia.
''But with the
exception of Poland, they are all small countries, so that
makes Poland all the more important,'' he said. ''They're
resisting pressure from the E.U. to get in lockstep
with the Swedish model--the secularist,
trends will be highlighted at the congress--Western
Europe's declining birth rates and dwindling church
attendance. Carlson expressed hope for spiritual
renewal among European youth but said it was
unrealistic to expect institutionalized religion on the
continent to return to its historical prominence.
Birth rates are
low across Europe, including Poland--where the
population is expected to shrink by several million in
the next two decades. Kaczynski's government is
preparing legislation to encourage larger families.
even in its planning stages, has been derided by liberal
''It's a jamboree
for people who very often find themselves outside the
mainstream,'' said Jon O'Brien, president of Catholics for a
Free Choice. ''They're living the fantasy for a couple
of days of what the world would be like if their ideas
O'Brien, a native
of Ireland now based in Washington, D.C., said Poland's
conservative bent is at odds with most of the continent.
conservative groups don't find much succor in Europe,'' he
said. ''It's moved on, toward tolerance and respect for how
people live their lives, for people who are gay,
single parents, different forms of family.''
speakers at the congress include a Vatican representative,
Monsignor Grzegorz Kaszak of the Pontifical Polish Institute
of Rome, and Ellen Sauerbrey, assistant U.S. secretary
of state for population, refugees, and migration.
Sauerbrey's involvement, 19 European Parliament members said
in an open letter that her attendance would signal approval
for ''extremist and intolerant views held by some
Bill Saunders of
the Family Research Council, who will speak about
bioethics, views the congress as pivotal.
European countries are being pushed to move in ways that
mirror Western Europe,'' he said. ''We want to help them
stand up to the E.U. bureaucracy.''
The congress also
highlights an increasingly active alliance between the
Protestant evangelicals who lead many U.S. conservative
groups and conservative Catholics, such as those
governing Poland, who share Pope Benedict XVI's goal
of re-Christianizing Europe.
''It reflects the
fact that the cultural battle has gone international,''
Carlson said. ''The American religious right, instead of
being isolationist, has in fact gone global.'' (David