Données sociologiques et juridiques sur la religion en Europe et au-delà

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Accueil > Europe > Questions et débats actuels > Archives des débats > 2015


  • 26 November 2015 : ECHR validates non-renewal of a hospital employee’s contract due to her refusal to remove veil

The applicant, a French national, had been recruited on a limited-term contract as a public service hospital worker and was employed as a social worker in the psychiatric department of a hospital. On 11 December 2000, the director of human resources informed the applicant that her contract would not be renewed. This decision was founded on the refusal of applicant to remove the headdress which she was wearing and was taken following complaints from some patients. The applicant took her case to the European Court of Human Rights, on the grounds that the non-renewal of her social worker contract contravened her right to freedom to express her religion, as guaranteed by Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

The Court notes that non-renewal of the applicant’s contract was founded on her refusal to take off her veil which, although not designated as such by the administration, was the undisputed expression of her affiliation to Islam. The Court does not have reason to doubt that the wearing of this veil constituted a “manifestation” of a sincere religious conviction protected by Article 9 of the Convention (§ 47). It additionally states that Article 1 of the French Constitution establishes that France is a lay republic which ensures equality of all citizens before the law. It observes that, in the law of the defendant state, this constitutional provision establishes the basis of the duty of neutrality and impartiality of the French State with regard to all religious beliefs or their conditions of expression and that it is interpreted and read jointly with the application made of it by national jurisdictions (§ 50).

With regard to the circumstances of the cause and grounds given for not renewing the applicant’s contract, namely the requirement for religious neutrality within the context of the vulnerability of the users of the public service, the Court considers that the interference complained of was essentially aimed at the legitimate goal of protecting the rights and freedoms of others. It was in fact a question of preserving respect for all patients’ religious beliefs and spiritual orientations - as users of the public service and recipients of the requirement for neutrality imposed on the applicant - by ensuring them a strict equality. The objective was also to ensure that these users benefited from equal treatment without distinction of religion (§ 53).

The Court notes that in France the principle of secularity-neutrality constitutes the expression of a rule organising relations between the French State and faiths, which implies its impartiality with regard to all religious beliefs in the respect of pluralism and diversity. The Court considers that the fact that national jurisdictions have granted more weight to this principle and to the interest of the French State than to the interest of the applicant not to have the expression of her religious beliefs restricted, does not pose a problem in respect of the Convention (§ 67). It acknowledges that state regulations give precedence to the rights of others, equal treatment of patients and the operation of the department over manifestations of religious beliefs (§ 71).

With regard to all the above, the Court considers that the interference complained of can be seen as proportionate to the desired goal. Therefore, interference in the exercise of her freedom to manifest her religion was necessary in a democratic society and there has been no violation of Article 9 of the Convention (§ 72).

For further information : CEDH, 26 nov. 2015, n° 64846/11, Ebrahimian c. France.

30 novembre 2015