A mandatory declaration of religion is being challenged by the National Secular Society as a breach of human rights.
In Greece, there is a claimed requirement for parents having to declare religion on the child’s birth certificate. This has been challenged by the National Secular Society (NSS) at the European Court of Human Rights.
NSS reported, “In Papanikolaou v Greece, the ECHR is considering whether the obligation violates article nine of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to freedom of religion and belief.”
Based on the submission to the ECHR, it has been argued by the NSS the obligation goes against Article 8 and Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. They deal with the right to respect for private and family life and the freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and state:
Right to respect for private and family life
1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Freedom of thought, conscience and religion
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
The NSS submission complained the obligation stands as contrary to the convention and unnecessarily divulges sensitive personal data in violation of the rights of the child and of the rights of the parent.
The complaint continued to remark on the nature of treating members of a particular faith as somehow a bloc or a “cohesive group”; whereas, the reality with every belief or social attitudinal group remains statistical and distributed more than anything. People differ.
With the freedom of religion or belief, as per the European Convention on Human Rights and the complaint from the NSS, it is an individual right, not a group right and, therefore, cannot be treated as a singular right of a group.
“The [NSS] argued that the requirement goes against both the plain words of the relevant articles of the ECHR and relevant case law. In previous cases the ECHR has ruled that requiring individuals to reveal their personal beliefs violates article nine,” the NSS reported, “It has also established that disclosure of information about personal religious and philosophical convictions may engage article eight, as such convictions concern some of the most intimate aspects of private life.”
Panayote Dimitras of the Greek Helsinki Monitor “greatly appreciated” the efforts of intervention of the NSS at the ECHR. The issues raised by the NSS will be ‘adding crucial arguments’ to the points raised by the Greek Helsinki Monitor too.
NSS chief executive Stephen Evans stated:
We’ve intervened in this case to uphold the principle that nobody should be required to reveal their personal beliefs, which can often be a very sensitive issue, without very good reason.
There’s no good reason why the Greek state should need to know the religion of a newborn child’s parents, so the court should ensure it upholds the right to freedom of belief and the right to privacy.
With files from the National Secular Society.