The legal status of religious minorities: Exploring the impact of the European Court of Human Rights

Effie Fokas

Social Compass, 2017, 65(1), 25-42

In the last 25 years the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has evolved into a venue where some of the most contentious questions related to religion in European society are addressed. This article focuses on the grassroots level impact of the ECtHR in the domain of legal status of religious minorities. In light of scholarly debates questioning the direct effects of courts on the issues they address (i.e., legal reform and policy change), the research on which this article is based explores the nature and extent of the Court’s indirect effects on the legal status of religious minorities: how and to what extent does the ECtHR impact upon religious minorities in terms of their conceptions of, discourse around, and mobilisations pursuing their legal status-related rights? This question is addressed through results of empirical qualitative research conducted at the grassroots level in four country cases – Greece, Italy, Romania and Turkey.

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Grassrootsmobilise Public Event & Conference

3-4 May 2018 – Athens, Greece


The European public square has, in the last twenty-five years and increasingly so, been inundated with controversies and debates around the place of religion in the public sphere. Against this backdrop the European Court of Human Rights has emerged to add its own voice and, in so doing, it has significantly influenced the terms of the debates.

Greece has a special place in the religion-related jurisprudence of the ECtHR: the Kokkinakis v. Greece case (1993) was the first in which a violation of religious freedom (Art.9) was found, and nearly 20% of all such violations found amongst 47 states are against the state of Greece. The ECtHR drew grassroots level attention in Greece in 2009 when it ruled that religious symbols (such as icons) should be removed from public schools (Lautsi v. Italy, 2009, a decision later reversed after several countries, including Greece, intervened on the matter). It may again enter the Greek public scene through debate on reform of religious education in public schools, currently a volatile political issue and one on which the ECtHR has ruled extensively and decisively – only not (yet) in the Greek context.

This event brings together former ECtHR judges and scholars to debate the question of whether the Court has gone too far, or not far enough, in its interventions on religion-related matters. The event is organised under the auspices of the European Research Council-funded Grassrootsmobilise Research Programme led by Dr. Effie Fokas, and hosted by the Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP). This event precedes a day-long conference showcasing research results which, in turn, will be followed by the presentation of the book The Kokkinakis Papers: Taking Stock of 25 years of ECHR Jurisprudence on Freedom of Religion or Belief.


Public Event

Religion and Secularism:

does the Court go too far – or not far enough?


Thursday, 3 May 2018, 17:30-20:00, Acropolis Museum



Professor Eva Brems (Professor of Human Rights Law, Ghent University)

Judge Ann Power-Forde (Former Judge at the European Court of Human Rights; Attorney at law)

Judge Christos Rozakis (Professor Emeritus of Public International Law at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens; Former President of the Administrative Tribunal of the Council of Europe; Former Judge and Vice-President of the European Court of Human Rights; Former Deputy Foreign Minister of Greece)

Professor Joseph H. H. Weiler (Joseph Straus Professor of Law, European Union Jean Monnet Chaired Professor, New York University (NYU); Co-Director, Jean Monnet Center for International and Regional Economic Law and Justice; Editor-in-Chief of the European Journal of International Law; Co-Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Constitutional Law)



Effie Fokas (Senior Research Fellow, Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP); Research Associate, Hellenic Observatory, London School of Economics (LSE))



Between state and citizen:

religion at the ECtHR


Friday, 4 May 2018, 09:30-19:00, Aigli Zappeiou

09:30-09:45 Welcome and introduction of Grassrootsmobilise Effie Fokas


09:45-11:30 Negotiating religious pluralism in the shadow of the Court: Insights from Grassrootsmobilise

Awareness of the Court and its case law – Effie Fokas

Legal status of religious minorities in the shadow of the Court – Greek and Turkish cases compared –

Ceren Ozgul and Margarita Markoviti

Majorities react: the Court as a resource for majority faiths in Lautsi  

Pasquale Annichinno and Alberta Giorgi

Grasstops v. grassroots perspectives on the Sindicatul case: from small-town feud to transnational strategy – Liviu Andreescu and Mihai Popa

Chair: Dia Anagnostou

Discussants: Marco Ventura; Julie Ringelheim


11:30-12:00 Coffee break


12:00-13:30 Actors before the Court discussing the mobilisations at play

Participants: Panos Bitsaxis;Panayote Dimitras; Yannis Ktistakis; Andrea Williams

ModeratorLisa Harms

Discussants: Christopher McCrudden


13:30-15:15 Lunch


15:15-16:30 Roundtable: ‘Do we need the ECtHR to protect religious freedom?’

Participants: Nicos Alivizatos; Malcolm Evans; Ronan McCrea; Grégor Puppinck; Brett Scharffs; Renáta Uitz; Lucy Vickers

Moderator: Cole Durham


16:30-17:00 Coffee break


‘The Kokkinakis Papers’ Book Presentation Session and Reception

17:00-18:45 Twenty-Five years of ECtHR Jurisprudence on Religion: Current challenges, lessons learned and lessons lost

Strengthening the effectiveness of the ECtHR in the context of new (and old) nationalisms – Jeremy Gunn

The ECtHR and other human rights institutions in comparative perspective – Ahmed Shaheed

Presenting Twenty-Five years of ECtHR Jurisprudence on Freedom of Religion or BeliefSilvio Ferrari

Chair: Grace Davie


18:45 Closing remarks: Effie Fokas

19:00 Reception celebrating the publication of The Kokkinakis Papers: Taking Stock of 25 years of ECHR Jurisprudence on Freedom of Religion or Belief


*Simultaneous translation from English to Greek will be available for the Public event, not for the Conference.


Entry to the Public Event is on a first come, first served basis. 

REGISTRATION REQUIRED for conference participation by 27 April 2018.



*Certificates of participation will be available upon request.

Alexia Mitsikostas (Programme Manager)

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