Religion, State and Society, 2017, 45 (3-4)

This special issue is devoted to an exploration of a disconnect between messages generated by the ECtHR through its case law and messages received at the grassroots level, in the domain of minority religious claims. Specifically, the contributions in this special issue critically assess some of the Court’s case law dealing with religious minority claims in terms of that case law’s clarity, consistency and controversiality, and they offer insight into the grassroots level impact of the Court’s case law on religious minority claims (and, specifically, claims to do with legal status).

Roughly divided, the first five contributions speak to the former matter, and the last five to the latter. And most derive from papers presented at a conference on Religion and Human Rights at the University of Padova in April 2016, organised within the International Joint PhD programme on ‘Human Rights, Society, and Multilevel Governance’. That conference allowed scholars who were working on various aspects of the work of the ECtHR to meet and interact in various sessions. Out of that interaction came the idea of developing a special issue on the work of the Court. The first five contributions are by scholars who presented independently on different panels at the latter conference, and the second batch of contributions showcase research conducted in the context of the Grassrootsmobilise Research Programme, four of which were presented on a panel on ‘Legal Status of Religious Minorities: Exploring the Impact of the European Court of Human Rights’ at the Padova conference (Fokas’ contribution was drafted subsequently).

Each of these contributions helps further and deepen our understanding of the European Court of Human Rights in its approach to and impact on religious minorities. Brought together though, this collection of texts offers a rare vantage point on the ‘circle of life’, so to speak, of the Court’s case law on religious minorities. Beginning with an in-depth examination of the Court’s treatment of certain issues of concern to religious minorities and moving on to consider its treatment of a particular religious minority group, the first set of contributions shows how lacking in clarity and consistency the Court may be on certain issues. In the process these texts impart a nuanced perspective on the challenges the Court faces in striking the right balance between protecting individual freedoms and respecting (in the framework of its subsidiary role) state rights to manage ‘nationally’ and ‘culturally’ sensitive matters. The second set of contributions makes readers privy to the varied results of this balancing act on the ground. Specifically, it offers empirically-based insight into the impact of the Court’s religious minorities-related case law on religious minority groups working at the grassroots level to defend their individual and communal rights. Thus, read together, these contributions provide both top to bottom and bottom-up perspectives on the Court’s influence in the domain of religious minority rights. In so doing it is hoped they also raise new questions and inspire further study of the causes and consequences of the disconnect, where applicable, between messages generated by the Court and messages received by its publics.

The texts that emanate from the Grassrootsmobilise research programme are available online; their titles are presented below as links to the full texts:

Effie Fokas & James T. Richardson

  • The principled slope: religious freedom and the European Court of Human Rights

Melanie Adrian

  • The freedom to wear religious clothing in the case law of the European Court of Human Rights: an appraisal in the light of states’ positive obligations

Marcella Ferri

  • Human rights and religions: ‘living together’ or dying apart? A critical assessment of the dissenting opinion in S.A.S. v. France and the notion of ‘living together’

Christos Tsevas

  • Militant or pluralist secularism? The European Court of Human Rights facing religious diversity

Roberta Medda-Windischer

  • Update on Jehovah’s Witness cases before the European Court of Human Rights: implications of a surprising partnership

James T. Richardson

Effie Fokas

Margarita Markoviti

Alberta Giorgi & Pasquale Annicchino

Mihai Popa & Liviu Andreescu

Ceren Ozgul