a1 President, European Court of Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights has stated that Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights in its religious dimension is not only one of the most vital elements that go to make up the identity of believers and their conception of life but also a precious asset for atheists, agnostics, sceptics and the unconcerned. In the past 20 years, the Court has been called upon to address the scope and content of the Article in a variety of key cases, involving matters as diverse as proselytism, the grant and refusal of registration of religious bodies, the refusal of authorisations for places of worship and prohibitions on the wearing of religious dress or symbols in public places. The Court's case law has not been without its critics, some complaining that the Court has interpreted Article 9 too narrowly and has given too little weight to the freedom to manifest one's religion in teaching, practice and observance. Others, in contrast, have criticised what they see as the excessive weight given to religion when in conflict with other ECHR rights, notably that of freedom of expression. Still others have charged the Court with failing to interpret Article 9 in such a way as to realise its full potential by not engaging with what is meant by the word ‘religion’. This article considers some of these criticisms, and the need for the Court to strike a balance between the effective protection of individual rights and the need to respect very different constitutional traditions among the Contracting States.
(Online publication April 16 2012)