State Neutrality and Legal Status of Religious Groups in the European Court of Human Rights Case-law

in Religion & Human Rights
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From the premise of religious freedom, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) case-law has established a State duty of neutrality concerning religious matters. However, the concept of neutrality is not univocal, and the ECtHR uses various different forms of it. States have a duty to allow religious groups access to legal personality, but they are not obliged to grant every religious group the same kind of legal personality. A double or multi-level system of recognition is legitimate under the European Convention on Human Rights (echr) if some conditions are fulfilled. The ECtHR has also affirmed that the most radical kind of double or multi-level system, that of an established church, is not contrary to the Convention. In a recent case, however, the ECtHR seems to have adopted a stricter approach to the legitimacy of privileges granted to some church/churches above other ones.

Religion & Human Rights

An International Journal




Fernando Arlettaz, Religión, libertades y Estado. Un estudio a la luz del Convenio Europeo de Derechos Humanos (Barcelona: Icaria, 2014); Jim Murdoch, Protecting the Right to Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion under the European Convention on Human Rights (Strasbourg: Council of Europe, 2012); Fernando Arlettaz, ‘La jurisprudencia del Tribunal Europeo de Derechos Humanos sobre la libertad religiosa: un análisis jurídico-político’, 27 Derechos y Libertades (2012), pp. 209–240; Gideon Cohen, ‘Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Protected Goods’, 12:2 Ecclesiastical Law Journal (2010), pp. 161–192: Paul M. Taylor, Freedom of Religion: UN and European Human Rights Law and Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005); Carolyn Evans, Freedom of Religion under the European Convention on Human Rights (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).


Joseph Raz, The Morality of Freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 113. The author proposes it as a definition of neutrality in general, not as a definition of substantive neutrality.


Tulkens, supra note 2, p. 2579; Zachary R. Calo, ‘Pluralism, Secularism and the European Court of Human Rights’, xxviJournal of Law and Religion (2010), pp. 101–103.


Calo, supra note 11, p. 104.


Ibid., p. 106.


Ibid., p. 108.


Haupt, supra note 2, pp. 991–1064. The Court does not use the terminology of non-establishment. The author uses the expression in a parallel with the American First Amendment religious clauses.


Ibid., pp. 991–1064.


Murdoch, supra note 1, p. 56.


Murdoch, supra note 1, p. 57.


Langlaude, supra note 20, p. 512.


See generally, Haupt, supra note 2, p. 1036; Evans, supra note 2, pp. 82–83; Evans and Thomas, supra note 3, p. 713.


Tulkens, supra note 2, p. 2585.


Henrard, supra note 5, p. 69.


Henrard, supra note 5, p. 70.


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