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Two Concepts of Religious Freedom in the European Court of Human Rights

Nehal Bhuta

European University Institute; European University Institute - Department of Law (LAW)

December 2012

EUI Working Papers LAW No. 2012/33

This paper considers the way in which recent historical work on the history of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience opens up a new interpretation of the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights in the headscarf cases. These decisions have been widely criticized as adopting a militantly secularist approach to the presence of Islamic religious symbols in the public sphere, an approach that seems inconsistent or even overtly discriminatory in light of the court’s recent decision in Lautsi that the compulsory display of crucifixes in the classroom did not breach Italy’s convention obligations. I argue that the headscarf cases turn less on the balance between state neutrality and religious belief, than on an understanding of certain religious symbols as a threat to public order and as harbingers of sectarian strife which undermine democracy.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 27

Keywords: freedom of religion, European Court of human rights, secularism, public order, headscarf

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Date posted: January 17, 2013  

Suggested Citation

Bhuta, Nehal, Two Concepts of Religious Freedom in the European Court of Human Rights (December 2012). EUI Working Papers LAW No. 2012/33. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2201483 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2201483

Contact Information

Nehal Bhuta (Contact Author)
European University Institute ( email )
Villa Schifanoia
133 via Bocaccio
Firenze (Florence), Tuscany 50014
+39 0554685219 (Phone)
European University Institute - Department of Law (LAW) ( email )
Via Boccaccio 121 (Villa Schifanoia)
I-50122 Firenze
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