European Court of Human Rights Problematic Decision for Freedom of Religion

Country: European Institutions (EU, ECHR,

Date of incident: February 13, 2012

On January 31st 2012, the third section of the European Court of Human Rights issued a judgment in the case of Sindicatul Păstorul cel bun c. Roumanie whereby it determined that the refusal of the Orthodox Church to register a trade union established within itself was contrary to freedom of association guaranteed by Article 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights. This interferes with the internal organization of a religious institution. The Romanian Orthodox Church has publicly expressed its wish that the matter is now referred to the Grand Chamber for a new trial.

Beyond the facts of the case, the judgment of the third Section is problematic because it changes the doctrine of the Court regarding important aspects of the protection of religious freedom. Among other problematic areas, this judgment analyses the facts not in terms of religious freedom (protecting the rights of others), but in terms of public order; so without asking whether the non-recognition of the union could be justified by respect for religious freedom of the Church, the Section was satisfied to certify that the union did not constitute a threat to public order and democracy, and that therefore it should have been legally recognised. In order to do this, the Section linked the respect of the rights of the Church not to religious freedom, but to public order, thereby falling short. Sources: