Autonomy of Religious Organizations in the European Convention on Human Rights and in the European Union Law
L.S. Rossi and G. Di Federico (eds), Fundamental Rights in Europe and China. Regional Identities and Universalism, Editoriale Scientifica, 2013: 132-153.
12 Pages Posted: 20 Sep 2012 Last revised: 30 Sep 2015
Date Written: 2013
The right of believers to freedom of religion encompasses the expectation that they will be allowed to associate freely without interference from public authorities. This implies that religious organisations should enjoy a certain degree of autonomy in their internal management and in the formulation of their doctrines. In the context of European religious pluralism, however, such right to autonomy may conflict with the interests of society and the rights of others.
This contribution examines the management and doctrinal dimensions of religious autonomy. It demonstrates that the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and EU institutions recognise the relevance and non-absoluteness of religious autonomy and pragmatically balance it against other rights and interests. Nonetheless, the current practice raises two issues. In the field of management autonomy, the most recent jurisprudence of the ECtHR may jeopardise the protection of the rights of others. In the area of doctrinal autonomy, European institutions may prevent minority groups from enjoying their rights, by adopting a restrictive definition of belief and its manifestation and by evaluating the legitimacy of religious beliefs.
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