Jean Monnet Center at NYU School of Law


Author: Lasia Bloss

Title: European Law of Religion - organizational and institutional analysis of national systems and their implications for the future European Integration Process


The present study puts its main emphasis on the corporate element of the freedom of religion in the European context. The collective side of fundamental rights' protection is often neglected in academic discussion, even though it has major impacts on the whole institutional shape of a given polity. It is not only touching upon the question whether an association should be allowed to be granted legal capacity in its own name and exercise rights and duties of its members as a separate legal person or in the function of an agent, but it is too a question of how a political entity chooses to accept or renounce repercussions due to different standards of how religion as a social phenomenon is established in a given societal context. This paper will analyze existing legal frameworks in four European Member States concerning the organization of state and church; within this approach state-church systems such as the Anglican Church in the United Kingdom, the principle of laïcité in France (with the current French controversy about legislation to ban religious symbols from public schools, as proposed by President Jacques Chirac on 17 December 2003) or the more cooperative-oriented systems in Spain and Germany appear to draw a highly differentiated picture of the European Union as a whole being divided into several major legal approaches in this arena. Yet, despite considerable differences in areas such as church tax or public education, a closer analysis allows to detect significant similarities too, especially regarding arising conflicts e.g. facing the increasing number of Muslim populations in each Member State.

Religious organizations and their secular equivalents as one major part of civil society can and will play a meaningful role for the future cohesion of the Union; religion as a social phenomenon, and not only because it is by definition an a-national feature not knowing frontiers in terms of nation states but claiming the one and only (ideological) truth beyond national boundaries, cannot and should not be underestimated - and this not only in perspective to an Osama Bin Laden and his Al'Qaeda or other fundamentalist groups justifying violation with their religious fanaticism, but rather because religion as a sociological feature determines life and values of peoples to a higher degree than politics often presumes. Henceforth, the paper dedicates one chapter to the role religion plays in Western European post-modernist societies by introducing the theoretical approach put forward by the sociologist Grace Davie. Furthermore, the ECHR-jurisprudence in the religious sector is analyzed throughout another chapter by outlining the sometimes rather contradictory decisions of the Strasbourg organs.

The European Union is facing major challenges, especially under the premise of the enlargement process towards the Central and Eastern European countries - each of them bringing their own culture and history - and their own way of acknowledging religion within their societies. However, the cornerstone has been laid down more than fifty years ago when the Council of Europe concluded the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms as early as in 1950 - and included in Article 9 ECHR the freedom of religion as the common basis for all States being signatories of this human rights instrument, and so for the European Union Member States and the candidate countries too. The near future will show if and how the Union will be able to establish an own "corporate identity" including policy sectors such as culture and education which, up to date, have played only a minor role in the Brussels sphere by safeguarding domestic idiosyncrasies that shape national identities to be respected in accordance with Article 6 TEU.

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