The European Court of Human Rights and freedom of religion

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Author: Angelika Nussberger

DOI: 10.21128/2226-2059-2018-2-44-61

Keywords: freedom of religion; margin of appreciation; proportionality test; religious symbols; secularism


The article analyzes the case law of the European Court of Human Rights (further – ECtHR) considering an important area of the freedom of religion, namely the use of religious symbols. These cases as well as restricting measures of member states, which have been challenged before the Court, are regularly controversially discussed in many European countries. By taking decision in cases of that category, the ECtHR demonstrates a double approach. On the one side, the secularism and intention to keep the equality of religions on a “zero” level are still favorable by the Court. For this reason, the Court often accepts various restricting measures considering the use of religious symbols. However, the author supposes that in the last time the symptoms of an other approach have been emerging: the Court treats the feelings of religious people in a more accurate manner and takes in consideration the cultural and historical context of a particular country. Thus, in the case Lautsi vs Italy, the Grand Chamber reversed the judgment of the Second Chamber not seeing a violation of Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which protects the freedom of thought, conscience and religion, in the common presence of crucifixes in classrooms of Italian public schools. Additionally, the ECtHR attempts to provide a wide margin of appreciation to national courts and politics. Moreover, the Court accepts many models of regulating the use of religious symbols, provided that they comply with the requirements of the Convention, especially the one very important, namely the prohibition of discriminating of particular beliefs. However, the author emphasizes that persons belonging to different religious groups could be affected by formally equivalent restricting measures to a different extent. One cause for that is the fact that the use and the wearing of religious symbols can be considered either as a duty or as a voluntary task.

About the author: Angelika Nussberger – Judge at the European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg, France; Professor of the University of Cologne, Cologne, Germany.

Citation: Nussberger A. (2018) Evropeyskiy Sud po pravam cheloveka i svoboda veroispovedaniya [The European Court of Human Rights and freedom of religion]. Mezhdunarodnoe pravosudie, vol.8, no.2, pp.44–61. (In Russian).


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