Democracy Light: Religious Liberty In The Coe Community
…Preamble to the European Convention on Human Rights
The above quote from the European Convention on Human Rights (“the Convention”) sets forth its intent to carry out in the context of a newly integrated Europe the proclamations of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“Universal Declaration”). Indeed, under the Convention, the 47 European countries constituting the membership of the Council of Europe (COE) covenant to uphold fundamental rights such as the right to religious liberty provided for in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration. Here, it is noteworthy that except for the inconsequential reordering of three words, Article 9(1) of the Convention is a verbatim adoption of Article 18. Nonetheless, the quality of religious liberty enjoyed by residents of the various COE states is uneven. Whereas Muslims residing in Scandinavian countries can manifest their religious beliefs through modes of attire, Muslims residing in France or Switzerland are prohibited such overtly visible modes of religious expression. There is also disparate treatment within the COE community of Jehovah Witnesses; those residing in Greece, do not fare well raising conscientious objection claims to avoid military service and they are prohibited from publicly bearing witness for their religious beliefs. This paper will focus on the inability of religious minorities to obtain equal protection of the laws within the newly integrated Europe and analyze its implications for COE’s claim to be a democratic union of states.