The issue of religious symbols in educational institutions has been a source of vigorous legal and political controversy. Two types of cases have been litigated before the European Court of Human Rights: those concerning the wearing of the Islamic headscarf in schools and universities, and those concerning the presence of the crucifix in school classrooms. In this article, I shall analyse these cases, assessing how the Court balances different rights and State interests, focusing in particular on the Court’s interpretation of the principles of neutrality/secularism and of gender equality. I shall criticise the Court’s deference to the State, arguing that it should more strictly supervise how States respect human rights. Respect for human rights requires that the States respect individual’s religious freedoms, be autonomous from the religion and safeguard the principle of plurality. While the Court has proclaimed these principles, it has failed to apply them in these cases.
BVerfG 2 BvR 24 September2003No. 1436/02 <http://www.bverfg.de> 1 March 2012.
Rosenfeldsupra note 19.
Natasha Walter‘When the Veil Means Freedom: Respect Women’s Choices that Are not Our Own, Even if they Include Wearing the Hijab’The Guardian20 January 2004. See also Jane Freedman ‘Secularism as a Barrier to Integration? The French Dillema’ 43:3 International Migration (2004) p. 5. For reactions to the Leyla Sahin judgment see the Turkish on-line journal: www.zaman.org.