Image for @News:  Freedom of Conscience, Religion, or Belief in Europe
Freedom of Conscience, Religion, or Belief in Europe

Please note that opinions expressed in articles on this page, or biases reflected in news items on the Headline News Page, do not necessarily reflect opinions or attitudes of members of the Strasbourg Consortium. We strive for balance in presenting issues of potential interest to our readers. 

Image for Oxford Journal of Law and Religion, Volume 3, Number 1

The Oxford Journal of Law and Religion is now available by subscription only.


  • Editorial
  • Ian Leigh & Andrew Hambler: Religious Symbols, Conscience, and the Rights of Others
  • Javier Garcia Oliva & Helen Hall: Same-Sex Marriage: An Inevitable Challenge to Religious Liberty
... more

Colloque Annuel de l'Association des Juristes Franco-Britanniques  (The Franco-British Lawyers Society Annual Colloquium), Silver Jubilee Year:  

"Dieu et mon Droit, Religion, Société et État – Quelques problèmes d'aujourd'hui (Religion, Society and State – a few of today's issues)", vendredi, le 27 septembre, 9:00 - 18:00, Salle Lamartine, 101 rue de l'Université, 75007 PARIS. 

Bulletin d'inscription - Registration Form

Image for Gerhard Robbers, 34th President of the Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchentag
Chancellor Angela Merkel with the Kirchentag President, Gerhard Robbers (photo credit: Kirchentag Jardine)

As President of the Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchentag (German Protestant Church), Professor Gerhard Robbers presided over the 34th Annual Protestant Church Conference held May 1-5, 2013 in Hamburg, Germany.  Some 160,000 people — including a number of high-profile politicians — met to pray, celebrate, and discuss together in the event, whose theme was "Soviel du brauchst" ("As much as you need").

The 650-page program of the Congress listed 2500 events, from the opening service on Wednesday afternoon to the "vast closing Eurcharist" on Wednesday evening. The text for the closing eucharist was from Micah: "They shall all sit under their own vines, and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid." The Bishop of Bradford, the Rt Revd Nick... more

The Tony Blair Faith Foundation and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in collaboration with the Balkan Institute and the University of Pristina are launching a two-week Summer Programme on “Faith and Foreign policy: Investigating the role of religion in Conflict and Post-conflict transformations” between 5 and 17th August. The Programme welcomes 26 participants from 15 countries as far and wide as Morocco, China and Ukraine. Renowned experts will address a varied programme covering themes such as religion in the context of post conflict reconstruction and the role... more

Image for HRWF welcomes the EU Guidelines on Freedom of Religion or Belief

HRWF (25.06.2013) - Human Rights without Frontiers welcomes the adoption of the EU Guidelines on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FORB) by the EU Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) on Monday 24th June in Brussels.  The Guidelines on FORB are the result of the EU Strategic Framework and Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy which the Council adopted one year ago.

FORB is a universal human right which is protected under Article 18 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). By adopting the FORB Guidelines the EU is mainstreaming and prioritising... more

Image for Special Rapporteur Makes First Visit to Cyprus

Donald B. Holsinger, Ph.D. & Ellen S. Holsinger - Geneva

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, will visit Cyprus from 29 March to 5 April 2012. His fact-finding mission will be the first ever to the island by an independent expert designated by the UN Human Rights Council. "I will try to identify any existing or emerging obstacles to the enjoyment of the freedom of religion or belief in Cyprus and present specific recommendations on ways and means to overcome such obstacles. I will also highlight any good practices,"... more

Image for Professor Rik Torfs Elected Rector of KU Leuven

Katholieke Universiteit Leuven has announced the election on 17 May 2013 of Professor Rik Torfs as Rector. Professor Torfs' four-year mandate will take effect on 1 August 2013.

Professor Torfs holds licentiate degrees from KU Leuven in law (1979), notary sciences (1980), and canon law (1981). In 1987, he successfully defended a doctorate in canon law. He was appointed lecturer of canon law at KU Leuven in 1988 and was promoted to full professor in 1996. He was Dean of the KU Leuven Faculty of Canon Law from 1994-2003. He has in addition been since 2000... more

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, Conference Call Transcript – 30 April 2013

A new Pew Research Center survey of Muslims in 39 countries around the globe finds that most adherents of the world’s second-largest religion are deeply committed to their faith and want its teachings to shape not only their personal lives but also their societies and politics. While many Muslims favor making sharia official law in their country, the report finds that there also is widespread support for democracy... more

Image for The World's Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society

Pew Research Center Report, April 30, 2013.  A new Pew Research Center survey of Muslims around the globe finds that most adherents of the world’s second-largest religion are deeply committed to their faith and want its teachings to shape not only their personal lives but also their societies and politics. In all but a handful of the 39 countries surveyed, a majority of Muslims say that Islam is the one true faith leading to eternal life in heaven and that belief in God is necessary to be a moral person. Many also think that their religious leaders should have at least some influence over political matters. And many express a desire for sharia – traditional Islamic law &ndash... more

Image for Gay Marriage Around the World – Pew Forum Analysis

Pew Research Center Report, updated April 23, 2013. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has updated  a report first issued on 8 February 2103 concerning gay marriage worldwide. A growing number of governments around the world are considering whether to grant legal recognition to same-sex marriages. About a dozen countries currently have national laws allowing gays and lesbians to marry, mostly in Europe and the Americas. In three other countries, including the United States, some jurisdictions allow same-sex couples to wed, while others... more

Image for UN Resolution A/HRC/22/L.40 on religious tolerance and freedom
OIC Coat of Arms

Reported by Don and Ellen Holsinger in Geneva

GENEVA (22 March 2013) - ARTICLE 19 and Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) welcome the new resolution on combating religious intolerance, which was adopted by consensus on 22 March 2013 at the 22nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). We call on all States to continue to engage in dialogue in good faith to protect the mutually reinforcing rights to freedom of expression, freedom of religion and belief and non-discrimination, including... more

Image for UN Resolution A/HRC/22/L.9 on freedom of religion or belief adopted by consensus

Reported by Don and Ellen Holsinger in Geneva

GENEVA (22 March 2013) – In its concluding day, the 22nd Session of the Human Rights Council passed resolution A/HRC/22/L.9 on Freedom of Religion or Belief. The resolution was adopted by consensus, meaning without vote, even though one Ambassador spoke against it. Following the intervention of the US ambassador, who made repeated and accusatory remarks about Iran’s failure to respect freedom of religion and to protect religious minorities... more

Image for UN Human Rights Council opens with call to strengthen international justice system
High Commissioner for Human Rights Navy Pillay addresses the 22nd session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

25 February 2013 – As the main United Nations human rights body began its work today, senior UN officials stressed the importance of strengthening international processes that will monitor and prevent rights violations around the world as well as hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes.

Addressing the opening of the 22nd session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that despite significant progress over the past two decades on issues such as the elimination of violence against women and tackling impunity for international crimes, there continue to be systematic human rights violations around the world.

“The promise of respecting all human rights for all people is still a dream for too many,” Ms. Pillay said. “Hundreds of thousands of people have died in genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia and Herzegovina... more

"International human rights organizations can play a cleaning up role that our 'system' is apparently
not able to play by itself," says Senator Prof. Rik Torfs. Human Rights Without Frontiers Int'l
is in support of the senator and 
is willing to lend him a hand in any future action in relation to this matter.

HRWF (06.02.2013) - Senator Rik Torfs, Professor in Canon Law at the Catholic University of Leuven and an internationally known expert in new religious movements, Minister Maggie De Block, State Secretary for Asylum and Migration, and former Minister of Justice... more

AFP (31.01.2013) - The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled Thursday in favour of three sects - including the Mandarom de Castellane - bringing a judgement against France for violation of freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

The decision in Strasbourg invalidated tax procedures brought against the sects, ordering France to pay 3 599 551 euros to the religious association Temple Pyramide, a sect known by the name Mandarom, for "property damage", 387 722 euros to the Evangelical Missionary Church and Eric Salaûn and 36 886 euros to the Chevaliers... more

Image for The Oxford Journal of Law and Religion

The Oxford Journal of Law and Religion was introduced to the Oxford Journals collection in 2012. The first issue appeared in print on 1 April 2012, followed by the second issue on 1 October. These issues, along with advance access to the third issue, to appear in early 2013, are available free of charge on the Journal's website

The new journal was developed "in response to the recent proliferation of research and writing on the interaction of law and religion cutting across many disciplines." The launch of the Journal was marked by Oxford Journal of Law and Religion Colloquium, hosted by the Religion and International Relations Programme of the Centre for Christianity and Culture and held 19 April 2012 at Regent's Park College, Oxford... more

HRWF (27.11.2012) - "Discrimination on grounds of religion or beliefs is more commonly perceived as rare or non-existent than widespread: 56% of Europeans think it is rare or non-existent (5% non-existent, 51% rare) and 39% that it is widespread. Five per cent "don't know".

However, as in 2009, there are very wide differences between countries. Discrimination based on religion or beliefs is seen as most widespread in France (66%), followed by Belgium (60%), Sweden (58%), Denmark (54%), the Netherlands (51%) and the UK (50%). The survey shows that belonging to a religious... more

In Raggett v. Society of Jesus Trust 1929 for Roman Catholic Purposes, (EWHC, Nov. 9, 2012), a British trial court (England and Wales High Court Queen's Bench Division) was faced with the question of the amount of damages to award to claimant who had been the victim of "a sustained course of sexual abuse" (but not "penetrative activity") by a Catholic priest beginning in 1970 when plaintiff was 11 years old and continuing until he was 15. Claimant, who was a law school graduate, sought... more

Image for Addressing Assembly, UN expert urges States to do more to protect the right of religious conversion
Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Heiner Bielefeldt. UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

25 October 2012 – A United Nations independent expert today urged the international community to consistently respect, protect and promote the human right to freedom of religion or belief in the area of conversion.

“The right of conversion and the right not to be forced to convert or reconvert belong to the internal dimension of a person’s religious or belief-related conviction, which is unconditionally protected under international human rights law,” the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, said in a news release, issued as he presented a report on his work to the UN General Assembly.

In his report, Mr. Bielefeldt analyses the patterns of abuses that are perpetrated in the name of religious or ideological truth claims in the interest of promoting national identity or protecting... more

Image for Rising Tide of Restrictions on Religion

The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life has on September 20, 2012 released the third in a series of reports analyzing the extent to which governments and societies around the world impinge on religious beliefs and practices. The new report looks at the extent and direction of change in religious restrictions from the year ending in mid-2009 to the year ending in mid-2010. Where appropriate, it also compares the situation as of mid-2010 with the situation in the baseline year of the study (mid-2006 to mid-2007). According... more

Image for Churches and their organisations: a substantial contribution to the social infrastructure in Europe

COMECE Press Release, July 2012:  The future of the European cohesion policy is presently under discussion in the European Council and the European Parliament. Regional policy is an expression of solidarity within the European Union. For Christians, solidarity is a natural expression of their faith. The Churches are convinced that, particularly at a time when the European unification process is facing a severe test, the European regional policy is of great importance for the cohesion envisaged in the EU Treaty. Therefore, the COMECE Secretariat... more

The Algemeiner as well as the Jewish Press report that a district court in Cologne, Germany ruled this week in an appeal from a trial court's decision that parents do not have the right to decide on religious circumcision for their sons. The court said that non-medically necessary circumcision causes "serious and irreversible interference in the integrity of the human body." The court went on to hold that circumcision "contravenes the interests of the child to decide later on his religious beliefs." It held that the parents' rights to provide for their children and their... more

(ENInews)--The British government's 12-week consultation on gay marriage, which concluded on 14 June, aroused strong opinions, with faith groups expressing views both "for" and "against." Opposition came from the (Anglican) Church in Wales and the established Church of England, which foresaw a conflict between the church's and the state's definition of marriage. However, during the consultation, a YouGov poll of more than 2,000 people found that 58 percent of people with a religious faith back same-sex marriage. The poll also showed that 70 percent of the public support... more

(ENInews)--A conservative Dutch Christian foundation called Different said it will appeal a government order telling health insurers they are not obligated to offer reimbursement for the foundation's "therapies" offered to gay Christians. The group has not yet decided which legal procedure they will use for their appeal, director Henk van Rhee told ENInews on 13 June. "We expect to know the exact steps we will take within two to four weeks," he said, noting that denial of reimbursement could affect the organization financially. Different, which is part of a larger Amsterdam-based... more

Paris Tribune (08.06.2012) - Georges Fenech is the president of an interministerial mission established by the Prime Minister, MIVILUDES, an acronym for Mission interministérielle de vigilance et de lutte contre les dérives sectaires (Interministerial Mission for Monitoring and Combatting Cultic Deviances). He was appointed to this position by François Fillon in 2008. His appointment was renewed in 2011.

A former deputy in the National Assembly, he is also the UMP (Union for a Popular Movement) candidate in the 11th legislative district of the Rhône... more

BELGA (07.06.2012) - Jurors in the court of assizes of Belgium found four of the defendants, Xavier Meert, Mourad Mazouj the husband of the victim, Jamila Zian, and Fatima Zekhnini, guilty of aggravating circumstances for having caused the death of the victim.

Latifa Hachmi submitted to sessions of Roquia, a Muslim rite of "unbewitching," mainly in her home, Waelhem Street, in Schaerbeek, between the end of June and the beginning of August in 2004. Two exorcists, Abdelkrim Aznagui (60) and Xavier Meert (34) conducted the ritual. The victim's husband, Mourad Mazouj (34)... more

Image for 'Islamic doctrine against radicalism': International Theological Conference in Moscow ends with a declaration condemning radicalism
Photo by Vefader Melikov

Makhachkala, May 28, 2012
by Vefader Melikov 

On May 26 in Moscow, the hotel "Ritz-Carlton" hosted the first in the Russian history International Theological Conference "Islamic doctrine against radicalism". Following the two-day work the Conference participant - the leading Muslim scholars of the Islamic world and the spiritual leaders of Russian Muslims adopted Moscow Theological Declaration of Muslim scholars on jihad, the application of Sharia and the caliphate.

This theological document combines the contents of several fatwas - the theological conclusions that condemn radicalism... more

Fernández-Martínez v. Spain (no. 56030/07) - Chamber Judgment 15 May 2012.  [Excerpts from the Court's press release:] The case concerned the decision not to renew of the contract of a priest, who was married with five children, to teach Catholic religion and morals, following the publication of an article disclosing his membership of the "Movement for Optional Celibacy".

The applicant, Mr José Antonio Fernández Martínez, is a Spanish national who was ordained as a priest in 1961. In 1984 he applied to the Vatican for... more

In a press conference on 15 May 2012 with French president François Hollande, German chancellor Angela Merkel named freedom of religion one of the various common European values which Europeans should be committed to.

Image for Scharffs and O'Crea Discuss Religion in the Secular State at Clark Society Event in London
Brett Scharffs with JRCLS London Chapter Members & Guests

On 21 April 2012 the London Chapter of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society sponsored an event hosted by the law firm Latham & Watkins, Bishopsgate, London. The event featured a discussion of the topic "A secular state preserves religious freedom" by Dr. Ronan McCrea, a barrister lecturing at University College London, and Professor Brett G. Scharffs, Francis R. Kirkham Professor of Law at the J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University, USA, and Associate Director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies.  

Dr. McCrea is author of Religion and the Public Order of the European Union (OUP 2011), which was Shortlisted for The Peter Birks Prizes for Outstanding... more

Image for Europe's Banning of the Full-Face Veil – Ongoing News and Opinions

4 May 2012. Ghent seminar on empirical face veil research (May 9). (Saïla Ouald Chaib, Strasbourg Observers)

10 February 2012. Banning the burqa and the European identity crisis. (Mauits Berger, Jurist)

31 January 2012. EU: Dutch government implements ban on face-covering clothing. (eGov Monitor)

28 October 2011. Breaking the law by just stepping out. (Angelique Chrisafis -Guardian News & Media Ltd, Gulf News)

22 September 2011.  France court fines two women for wearing niqab, or full-face veil, in first action since ban took effect.... more

Image for Islam, Europe and Emerging Legal Issues

Islam, Europe and Emerging Legal Issues
Edited by W. Cole Durham Jr., Rik Torfs, David M. Kirkham, and Christine Scott
Ashgate Publishers 2012

Islam, Europe and Emerging Legal Issues brings together vital analysis of the challenges that Europe poses for an expanding Islam and that Islam poses for Europe, within their ever-evolving religious, legal, and social environments. This book gathers some of the best thinking on Islam and the law affecting current and contested issues that can no longer be... more

Image for Freedom of Religion: A Fundamental Right in a Rapidly Changing World
Katharina Von Schnurbein (Adviser, BEPA) and Jean-Claude Thébault (Director-General of BEPA)

Brussels - 30 March 2012

On 30 March 2012 the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ) participated at the European Commission to the Dialogue-Seminar on "Freedom of Religion: A Fundamental Right in a Rapidly Changing World." This Dialogue Seminars is co-organised by the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community (COMECE) and the Church & Society Commission of the Conference of European Churches (CEC) together with the Bureau of European Policy Advisors of the European Commission (BEPA).... more

GENEVA (8 March 2012) – On International Women’s Day, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Rashida Manjoo, calls on States to promote, in particular, the social, cultural, and economic rights of rural women:

"Violence against women results from a complex interplay of individual, family, community and social factors. I have emphasised the need for a holistic approach that does not treat all women homogenously, but recognizes that discrimination and violence affect women in different ways depending on how they are... more

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Day of Commemoration in the Memory of Victims of the Holocaust. UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

27 January 2012.  UN event marks Annual International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust. The event is observed annually on the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp. This year's theme was "Chidlren and the Holocaust."

26 January 2012. European Parliament marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day. (David Peterson, Brussels)

21 January 2012. At Holocaust remembrance ceremony UN official urges protection of children from war.... more

Image for Marking the Passing of Human Rights Champion Abdelfattah Amor

The Strasbourg Consortium joins the international religious freedom community in mourning the death on 2 January 2012 of Tunisian human rights advocate Professor Abdelfattah Amor. Professor Amor served from 1993 to 2004 as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. At the time of his death, Dr. Amor was a member of the UN Human Rights Committee, and had recently been appointed as president of Tunisia’s National Commission for the Investigation of Corruption and Bribery.... more

Image for Religious Freedom and the New Hungarian Constitution - January 2012

17 January 2012. The new 'Church Law'. (Secular Hungary)

15 January 2012. Hungary: Twilight of the gods. Only thirty-seven churches remain in running for official recognition after controversial new law takes effect. (Robert Hodgson, The Budpaest Times)

7 January 2012. 82 churches ask to be recognized in Hungary. (Associated Press via

4 January 2012. US diplomat: Hungary could lose its EU membership. (EurActiv)

4 January 2012. New Hungarian constitution revokes nation's... more

Image for The Future of Christians in the Middle East

From Europe Infos: Christian Perspectives on the EU, January 2012.

On 18 and 19 November 2011, a group of MEPs from different European Parliament party groups organised the first top-level parliamentary conference on the theme "The future of Christians in the Middle East."

Lebanon had been chosen as the host country for this debate because – in the words of His Holiness Pope John-Paul II – "Lebanon is more than a country... more

Image for Judges of the European Court of Human Rights Assume Duties

Friday, 4 November 2011, marked significant events for the European Court of Human Rights. On that day the judge elected in respect of France, Mr. André Potocki, was sworn in by the new Court President Sir Nicolas Bratza, whose term of office also began on the same day.

Three-year terms of office also began on November 4 for new Court Vice-President Judge Josep Casadevall (Andorra) and new Section President, Lech Garlicki (Poland).... more

Image for The EU and Intercultural Dialogue – Library Briefing 2011

28 September 2011

The EU is now one of the main destinations of migration, home to more and more people of different nationalities, religions and cultures. In this context, cultural, ethnic and religious diversity brings new social and political challenges. For example, increased interaction can lead to friction between cultures and give rise to identity-linked tensions. This, in turn, can trigger fear and rejection.... more

The Provisional Edition (December 2010) of the online handbook The ECHR in 50 Questions is now available. The handbook, published by the European Court of Human Rights, answers 5 basic background questions about the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) before addressing 45 questions about the Court (also ECHR, though in the abbreviation used by the Strasbourg Consortium and others to avoid confusion, ECtHR). Some answers are better suited to scholars of and practitioners before the Court than to casual readers, but the publication is helpful for anyone concerned... more

The proceedings of a session of the AALS 2010 annual symposium, The Freedom of Religion and Belief Jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights: Legal Moral, Political and Religious Perspectives, have been published in The Journal of Law and Religion, XXVI, No. 1 (2010-11) and include the following articles:

Brett G. Scharffs
“Symposium Introduction: The Freedom of Religion and Belief Jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights: Legal, Moral, Political and Religious Perspectives”

Zachary R. Calo
“Pluralism, Secularism and the European... more

13 April 2011 - European Parliament, Committee on Petitions

Following the recent judgment (Lautsi and Others v. Italy, no. 30814/06) of the European Court of Human Rights concerning the presence of crucifixes in Italian State-school classrooms, the Committee on Petitions of the European Parliament on 13.04.2011 discussed a petition [Petition 1594/2010 by Gabriele Cervi (Italian), on maintaining crucifixes in Italian schools] where the petitioner argues in favour of the respect for national identities and traditions of the Member States of the Union with reference to their common heritage and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. 

9 March 2011 - Rimini, Italy
Laura Asioli

The Italian Secretary of State Daniela Santanchè has stated in an interview that she fully supports Mattia Palazzi's (owner of 4* Hotel Sporting in Rimini, Italy) decision not to allow a Muslim girl to work for the Hotel as part of her school's compulsory 'work experience' programme. Mr Palazzi stated that the hotel had to adhere to a strict international uniform policy which did not allow veils. This policy had little to do with religion he explained. Ms Santanchè added that the decision relates to the respect for... more