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Legal framework

Religion in European Union legislation

The European Union has no jurisdiction in matters of religion, but various Community acts do, however, address religion.

The European Union has no jurisdiction in matters of religion, but various Community acts do, however, address religion.

D 4 October 2012   

Case law

In 1976, the EU Court of Justice issued a decision directly relating to freedom of religion (ECJ, 27 October 1976, case 130-75, Vivien Prais). Furthermore, the Court has on rare occasions (...)

In 1976, the EU Court of Justice issued a decision directly relating to freedom of religion (ECJ, 27 October 1976, case 130-75, Vivien Prais). Furthermore, the Court has on rare occasions considered cases involving denominational activities, personnel or organisations, always linking them to the areas of application of the treaties (freedom of movement, freedom to provide services...).

In judgment Bundesrepublik Deutschland c/ Y. and Z. of 5 September 2012 (joined cases C-71/11 and C-99/11), the Court specified to what extent violations of freedom of religion can constitute persecution in the sense of Article 9 of Directive 2004/83/EC of 29 April 2004 on minimum norms for conditions that non-EU nationals or stateless persons must fulfil in order to qualify for refugee status (for further informations, see Current debates 5 sept. 2012).

D 7 October 2013    AFrançoise Curtit

Guidelines on freedom of religion or belief

On 24 June 2013, the Council of the European Union adopted the EU Guidelines on the promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief, in which it reaffirms that it is committed to (...)

On 24 June 2013, the Council of the European Union adopted the EU 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 give officials of the EU and Member States practical advice on how to prevent violations of freedom of religion or belief, to analyse concrete cases and respond effectively to violations regardless of where they are committed, in order to promote and protect this freedom in the EU’s external actions.

It also clarifies its position in terms of neutrality 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 dealing with freedom of religion or belief, the EU will grant special attention to eight priority action areas for which it details the content.

For further information, see:
- EU Guidelines on the promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief
- "Religion and beliefs: fundamental rights guaranteed by the ECHR and EU law" by Gabrielle Caceres (March 2016)
- the article "Diplomatie européenne et liberté de religion" by François Foret (9 May 2017) on ORELA.

D 8 October 2013    AFrançoise Curtit

EU treaties

The construction of Europe is based on the founding treaties, amended several times and, most recently, by the Treaty of Lisbon which came into force on 1 December 2009 at the end of a long (...)

The construction of Europe is based on the founding treaties, amended several times and, most recently, by the Treaty of Lisbon which came into force on 1 December 2009 at the end of a long process.

The Treaty of Lisbon amends the Treaty on the European Union (TEU) and the Treaty establishing the European Community (now the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union - TFEU). It introduces for the first time into primary law reference to the religious heritage of Europe and to the status of religious and humanist organisations, while confirming the guarantee of fundamental rights and non-discrimination.

- In the preamble to the TEU a recital was inserted referring to "the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe, from which have developed the universal values of the inviolable and inalienable rights of the individual as well as freedom, democracy, equality and rule of law".

- A new Article 17 was inserted into the TFEU, incorporating the contents of Declaration no. 11 annexed to the Treaty of Amsterdam (1997). It asserts the EU’s respect for the status from which churches, religious associations or non-confessional organisations benefit under national law and its maintaining an "open, transparent and regular dialogue with these Churches and organisations".

- Article 13 TFEU introduces for the first time into primary law the notion of respect for religious rites as taken into account of by Member States, relating to the welfare of animals at slaughter and killing.

- In terms of fundamental rights, new Article 6 §1 of the TEU states that "the Union recognises the rights, freedoms and principles enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union of 7 December 2000, as adapted on 12 December 2007 in Strasbourg, which has the same legal value as the treaties (...)". In addition, "the Union shall adhere to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. This adherence does not change the Union’s jurisdictions as defined in the treaties. Fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and as they result from constitutional traditions common to Member States, constitute general principles of EU law." (New Article 6 §2 and §3 TEU). The measures adopted by EU institutions and those adopted by Member States to implement EU law will henceforth be subject to review by the European Court of Human Rights, so as to ensure citizens similar protection from the Union that they enjoy from Member States in matters of fundamental rights.

- A clause banning discrimination based, inter alia, on religion or personal convictions is restated in Article 19 of the TFEU, whereas new Article 10 of the TFEU provides that in the definition and implementation of its policies and actions "the Union shall aim to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation".

D 18 July 2017    AFrançoise Curtit

Secondary law

Secondary legislation, adopted on the basis of treaties in the various areas of responsibility of the European Union, is never primarily devoted to religion, but deals with it on an adhoc basis (...)

Secondary legislation, adopted on the basis of treaties in the various areas of responsibility of the European Union, is never primarily devoted to religion, but deals with it on an adhoc basis to take into consideration religious freedom or the activities of faith communities who may be affected by the measures adopted. Religion as a whole is seen from two perspectives, that of protecting religious convictions and religious non-discrimination, and that of specific measures or derogations for communities or religious activities.

With regard to the functioning of the bodies of the European Union, the regulations governing officials of the European Communities states that Community personnel have the right to equal treatment in all of their professional relations and cannot be discriminated against, in particular on the grounds of their religious or philosophical convictions. Moreover, no mention of these convictions may be included in officials’ personnel files. Note also that this requirement not to discriminate figures among the obligations of Community personnel in their relations with the public: the internal rules or "codes of good conduct" of the various institutions emphasise the need to treat people using their services equally, regardless of their religious beliefs.

Directive 95/46/EC of 24 October 1995 on protecting individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data sets out the general principal banning the processing of "sensitive" personal data. Some exceptions are provided for, however, including data processing performed by bodies working "not for profit and with political, philosophical, religious or trade union objectives, provided that the processing relates solely to the members of this body or to persons maintaining regular contact with it linked to its objectives and that the data is not disclosed to third parties without the consent of the persons concerned" (Art. 8 §1d). The Regulation 2016/679 will replace Directive 95/46 as of 25 May 2018 by maintaining similar provisions for religious organizations.

With regard to employment and work (access to employment, working conditions, professional training, membership of professional organisations), Directive 2000/78/EC establishes a ban on any discrimination based on religion or personal convictions. It does, however, provide for Member States to allow "churches and other public or private organisations with an ethos based on religion or personal convictions" to consider, as part of their professional activities, the religion or convictions of a person, when these constitute "a genuine occupational requirement, legitimate and justified in view of the ethics of the organisation" (Art. 4 §2).

Directive 2003/88/EC of 4 November 2003 on aspects of the organisation of working time also defines the length of daily and weekly rest, as well as the length of the working week and night shifts. Article 17 provides for a number of derogations to these norms and only three types of workers may be subject to such exceptions to working hours without it being necessary to organise compensatory rest periods or to provide for collective agreements and these include "workers officiating at ceremonies in churches and religious communities".

Regulation (EC) 2201/2003 of 27 November 2003 aims to define the rules of jurisdiction and to improve the recognition and enforcement of judgements on separation, divorce or marriage annulment, as well as parental responsibility. In these areas, it allows for decisions by one Member State to be recognised in other Member States without having to resort to any further proceedings or checking the jurisdiction of the court of the state of origin. In particular, it takes into consideration, among these decisions, annulments of Catholic marriages by the ecclesiastical courts, as regulated for four countries (Spain, Italy, Malta, Portugal) through international agreements made with the Holy See (Art. 63).

The Regulation (EC) No 1099/2009 of 24 September 2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing allows exemptions for slaughtering prescribed by religious rites, aimed at reconciling the requirements of animal welfare with the right to manifest one’s religion.

Directive 2010/13 of 10 March 2010 serves to facilitate the exchange of television programmes between Member States. In Art. 20 §2, it specifically provides that "broadcasts of religious services" cannot under any circumstances be interrupted by advertising or home-shopping. In addition, Member States shall ensure "that audiovisual media services (...) do not contain any incitement to hatred based on race, sex, religion or nationality" (Art. 6).

D 18 July 2017    AFrançoise Curtit

Atlas of religious or belief minority rights

The Atlas of religious or belief minority rights is a tool to map and measure minority rights in the EU countries.

The Atlas of religious or belief minority rights is a tool to map and measure minority rights in the EU countries.

D 15 June 2022   

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