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  • 9 July 2013: The ECHR approves the refusal to register a trade union of church employees

In April 2008, 35 members of the clergy and lay personnel of the Romanian Orthodox Church decided to establish a trade union. The elected president of the union sought to obtain from the court of first instance the granting to the union of its legal personality and its registration as a trade union. The public prosecutor, representing the state in the proceedings, spoke in favour of the registration application, considering that the creation of a union of members of clerical and lay personnel was not contrary to any legal provision. He added that the members of the union were employees who performed their duties in line with contracts of employment; they had, like any other employees, the right to join a union to defend their rights.

In May 2008, the court accepted the request and ordered the union’s entry into the register, thus giving it legal personality.

The archdiocese then filed an appeal against this judgment. It felt in particular that the appearance within the structure of the church of a union-type organisation for clerical staff seriously undermined the freedom faiths had to organise themselves according to their own traditions.

In a final judgment of July 2008, the county court accepted the appeal, quashed the judgment pronounced at the court of first instance and substantively rejected the application for legal personality and entry into the trade union register.

In its judgment of 31 January 2012, the European Court of Human Rights found a violation of Article 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights (freedom of assembly and association) on the grounds that, in the absence of "pressing social need" and without adequate reasons, a measure as radical as the rejection of the union’s application for registration was disproportionate to the desired goal and, therefore, not necessary in a democratic society.

The case was referred to the Grand Chamber at the request of the government. In its judgment of 9 July 2013, the former considered that, in its decision, the county court had solely applied the principle of autonomy of religious organisations. The court’s refusal to register the union because of its failure to comply with the condition of obtaining the archbishop’s permission was a direct consequence of the right of the religious community in question to organise itself freely and to operate in accordance with the provisions of its statutes.

The Court found that, by refusing to register the applicant union, the state had simply refrained from getting involved in the organisation and functioning of the Romanian Orthodox Church, thus respecting the neutrality obligation imposed by Article 9 of the Convention.

For further information: ECHR, Grand Chamber, 9 July 2013, Sindicatul « Păstorul cel bun » c. Romania, no. 2330/09.

  • 24 June 2013: The European Union adopts guidelines on freedom of religion or belief

On 24 June 2013, the Council of the European Union adopted the European Guidelines on the promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief, in which it reaffirms that it is committed to promoting freedom of religion or belief in its external human rights policy.

These guidelines provide officials of the EU and Member States with practical advice on how to prevent violations of freedom of religion or belief, to analyse specific cases and respond effectively to violations, regardless of where they are committed, in order to promote and protect this freedom in the external actions of the Union.

It also clarifies its position in neutrality terms by stating that it “does not consider the merits of
the different religions or beliefs, or the lack thereof, but ensures that the right to believe or not to
believe is upheld. The EU is impartial and is not aligned with any specific religion or belief”.

When it comes to dealing with freedom of religion or belief, the EU will grant special attention to eight priority action areas, the contents of which it details.

For further information, see: EU Guidelines on the promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief.

  • 24 April 2013: A Council of Europe resolution

On 24 April 2013 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted Resolution 1928 (2013), Safeguarding human rights in relation to religion and belief and protecting religious communities from violence.

The Assembly calls especially on member States to « ensure equality of treatment before the State and public authorities of all individuals and communities regardless of religion, faith or non-religious beliefs » and to « accommodate religious beliefs in the public sphere by guaranteeing freedom of thought in relation to health care, education and the civil service provided that the rights of others to be free from discrimination are respected and that the access to lawful services is guaranteed ». The Assembly further urges all States to « reaffirm that respect of human rights, democracy and civil liberties is a common basis on which they build their relations with third countries, and ensure that a democracy clause, incorporating religious freedom, is included in agreements between them and third countries ».
The resolutions of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe do not have legally binding force. They reflect a political will and encourage the Member States to act in certain areas.

D 15 July 2013   

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