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Law on Freedom of Religion

Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights

Article 9 – Freedom of thought, conscience and religion

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, and to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

2. Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

European Court of Human Rights:

115. The Court has also said that, in a democratic society, in which several religions coexist within one and the same population, it may be necessary to place restrictions on this freedom in order to reconcile the interests of the various groups and ensure that everyone's beliefs are respected (see the previously cited Kokkinakis judgment, p. 18, § 33). (CASE OF METROPOLITAN CHURCH OF BESSARABIA AND OTHERS v. MOLDOVA (Application no. 45701/99), JUDGMENT, STRASBOURG, 13 December 2001

Scholarly Opinion

(Promoting Justice, Human Rights and Conflict Resolution through International Law / La promotion de la justice, des droits de l’homme et du règlement des conflits par le droit international Liber Amicorum Lucius Caflisch Edited by Marcelo G. Kohen, 2007)

Page 594: Freedom to manifest one's religion or belief may be restricted for the reasons listed in the second paragraph of Article 9. If freedom to manifest one's religion had been left unlimited, it would be difficult to preserve the legal order, since religious beliefs would take priority over legal obligations.

Article 9 does not protect every act which is motivated or influenced by a religion or belief. In C. v. United Kingdom (1983), the former Commission stated that "... Article 9 of the Convention does not always guarantee the right to behave in the public sphere in a way which is dictated by such a belief".

. . . .

p. 595: In the light of this case-law, it is possible to conclude that three different circles exist with regard to the scope of Article 9:
a. religious creeds and personal beliefs that are within the forum internum. They have an absolute character and may not be interfered with by the State.
b. religious acts and practices which are closely linked to a religious belief, such as offering prayers or fasting. States may impose restrictions on such freedoms providing they meet the conditions in paragraph 2 of Article 9. The States' margin of appreciation is narrow. States also have certain positive obligations in respect of such freedoms.
c. acts which are influenced by religious beliefs but remain outside the scope of the above categories. States enjoy a broad margin of appreciation and have no positive obligation in respect of such acts.
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