Hem / English / Understanding the Council of Europe’s Article 9 – Freedom of thought, conscience and religion case-law handbook. Part 2 – Manifestation of beliefs/religion

Understanding the Council of Europe’s Article 9 – Freedom of thought, conscience and religion case-law handbook. Part 2 – Manifestation of beliefs/religion

While an individual’s forum internum (internal beliefs) is protected in its entirety the same cannot be said of ‘manifestation’. Photo: Liv&Rätt

Forum internum refers to the absolute right everyone has, to hold their own opinions and beliefs. Once those personal opinions and beliefs start influencing the outward, visible actions of an individual or group in the form of “worship, teaching, practice and observation”, then it becomes a ‘manifestation’. While an individual’s forum internum (internal beliefs) is protected in its entirety, to such a degree that individuals are not obliged to disclose their religious/philosophical beliefs (the only exceptions being when claiming special privileges and when taking up employment in public office), the same cannot be said of ‘manifestation’.

Manifestation is protected by the Article 9 provision however, the Strasbourg Court has, in its case law, shown that not all acts can be regarded as acceptable or even ‘necessary’ manifestations of belief. Cases which have demonstrated this principle, for instance are: Arrowsmith v. United Kingdom (a pacifist handing out flyers to soldiers), Knudsen v. Norway (dec.) (applicant protested a new abortion law by abdicating from certain ‘state’ duties) and Van den Dangen v. the Netherlands (applicant sought to dissuade patients and staff from having and performing abortions). In all these cases, the applicants ‘manifested’ their religious/philosophical beliefs. However, the court found ‘no violation’ of the Article 9 right, as the Court stipulated that an important distinction is to be made between actions which are directly dictated by one’s religious/philosophical beliefs and those actions which are merely inspired it.

Furthermore, manifestation as protected in the Article 9 provision not only applies to individuals but also groups/communities (collective manifestation) adhering to particular beliefs. ‘Collective manifestation’ of beliefs is thus protected in a religious organisation or church’s ability to take on “victim status” as defined within the Convention’s Article 34. These official institutions are viewed as being representative of its members (see, X and Church of Scientology v. Sweden (dec.) and Canea Catholic Church v. Greece, §31.). This representative status is only afforded to religious organizations and within the sphere of religious beliefs and does not extend to thought or conscience as can be seen in Verein “Kontakt-Information-Therapie” and Hagen v. Austria.

Aspects of ‘manifestation’ are broad, not always ‘black and white’ and admitted cases, are judged within their proper contexts on a case to case basis. Although manifestation is protected, not all acts constitute ‘necessary’ manifestation and states, with their ‘margin of appreciation’ hold the right to restrict certain manifestations (e.g. sanctions for wearing religious symbols) which can be shown to be harmful to the public ‘good’ (see, Phull v. France (dec.)). The court therefore, greatly takes into account the domestic laws placing restrictions on manifestation and determines whether such restrictions are indeed justified  see Aktas v. France (dec.),  Leyla Şahin v. Turkey [GC], §§104-162 at. §109). Furthermore, due to the numerous ways in which religious/philosophical beliefs can influence one’s actions, invoking the freedom of religion, conscience and thought provision, should be done after careful consideration. Thought should be given as to whether some cases are truly Article 9 ‘manifestations’ or whether other provisions within the Convention may be more suitable, such as the Article 10’s Freedom of Expression, Article 8’s right to private life, Article 14 and Protocol No. 12 to the Convention’s Prohibition of Discrimination. In addition, in the case of states restricting access to places of ‘collective worship/manifestation,’ Article 11’s Freedom of assembly and association could be used together with Article 9.


Crystal Malan, legal researcher

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