Pluralism and Religious Freedom. Insights from Orthodox Europe

Effie Fokas

in eds. Elisabeth A. Diamantopoulou and Louis-Leon Christians, Orthodox Christianity and Human Rights in Europe: A Dialogue Between Theological Paradigms and Socio-Legal Pragmatics, (2018) Oxford: Peter Lang

A snapshot of European societies today reveals the importance of religious minority treatment and the grave potential that the latter can carry for instability and even social unrest in a situation of rapidly increasing religious diversity. The Pew Forum’s influential study on the ‘Rising tide of restrictions on religion’ highlighted the problem on a global scale. Most conspicuous are the reactions of Muslim groups against what they perceive to be intolerant majorities, but other (less attended by the mass media) religious minority experiences are no less compelling evidence of tensions around religious pluralism in localities across Europe. Registration restrictions, curtailed rights to expressions of faith, and exclusion from mass media are amongst several limitations on religious freedom experienced by religious minorities in Europe.

Such limitations of religious freedoms are particularly prominent in countries where Orthodox Christianity is the majority faith. Indicatively, majority Orthodox states are accountable for 63% of all European Court of Human Rights convictions for religious freedoms violations. What is the reason behind this state of affairs? Is there something intrinsic to Orthodoxy as a religious and social institution that makes it intolerant towards minorities? Or are there historical and political particularities in individual Orthodox majority countries that underlie the barriers to religious freedoms in each case?

This chapter draws on empirical research conducted in four majority Orthodox countries with the explicit aim of addressing such questions. Specifically, the text reflects research conducted by the author in Bulgaria, Romania, Russia and Greece, in response to two particular realities: first, the aforementioned prominence of limitations to religious freedoms in majority Orthodox contexts, and second, a body of social science literature questioning the relationship between Orthodoxy and pluralism.

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The Geopolitics of Transnational Law and Religion

Pasquale Annicchino

in eds. Susanna Mancini and Michel Rosenfeld, The Conscience Wars: Rethinking the balance between Religion, Identity and Equality, (2018) Cambridge University Press, pp.258-274.

The aim of this contribution is to contextualize the current wars of conscience within the global scenario of culture wars through the frame of legal narrative and geopolitical imagery, in which religious factors and variables play a significant role. Legal orders and conscience-related conflicts are therefore understood in the context of a constantly shifting and fragmenting international legal regime.

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Religion and Human Rights in Greece

Effie Fokas

in eds. Giuseppe Giordan and Siniša Zrinščak, Global Eastern Orthodoxy. Politics, Religion and Human Rights, New York: Springer, forthcoming 2019.

From a number of perspectives Greece may be considered to hold a special place in the nexus between religion and human rights: Greece was the recipient of the first European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) conviction for violation of religious freedom (in Kokkinakis v. Greece, 1993); it is also the single country with the largest number of religious freedom convictions to date  (over 20% of all such violations found across the 47 member states of the Council of Europe); and it is host to a very broad range of debates regarding religious freedom, from blasphemy laws, proselytism bans, and protracted resistance to the building of mosques, to religious education in public schools, limitations on legal status of religious minorities, and – less directly related to religion but rather conspicuously influenced by majority Orthodoxy – limitations on rights related to social ethics issues (e.g., same-sex marriage). This chapter offers an overview of contemporary challenges and debates in the Greek public sphere regarding religion and human rights and in so doing draws on empirical research conducted on religion, human rights, and the impact of the ECtHR at the grassroots level.

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Too Little, Too Late for Religious Freedom in Greece?

Blog post by Effie Fokas, Principal Investigator for GRASSROOTSMOBILISE, on the issue of religious education in Greek public schools, for the Public Orthodoxy blog of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University, May 10, 2018.

The Western Thrace region of Greece exists as an anomaly in Europe for the prevalence of sharia courts over secular courts on matters related to family law. This anomaly is left over from a population exchange between Greece and Turkey and the terms set out in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. The governance of sharia in the region (specifically, for interference in the selection of Muftis) has been the subject of several cases against the state of Greece in the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), cases in which the Greek state was found to be violating the claimants’ freedom of religion.

Unsurprisingly, the Greek state is keen to avoid further shaming over an issue that already draws significant negative attention from its European partners. In November of 2017, the Greek government announced a bill to limit the powers of Islamic sharia courts operating in Western Thrace. The timing of the bill’s announcement made rather conspicuous the connection to a pending case against Greece before the European Court of Human Rights: in December of 2017 the ECtHR was due to hear (and did in fact hear) the case of Molla Sali v. Greece, in which a woman claimed that the application of sharia law over her husband’s civil law will for his estate entailed discrimination on the basis of religion (inheritance issues of non-Muslim Greeks are, of course, dealt with solely under civil law). Under sharia law, 2/3rds of the estate would go to the sisters of the deceased instead of the full estate being bequeathed to Molla Sali, as was set out in her husband’s civil law will. Here the government’s move was one case of too little too late, with Greek law falling short of and trailing behind, time-wise, developments within the ECtHR: the new law will not save the Greek state from a further violation found (the judgment is still pending), and most importantly, it still leaves the sharia courts in place.

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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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Religioni di minoranza tra Europa e laicità locale [Minority religions between Europe and local secularism]

Alberta Giorgi (forthcoming 2018)

Milano: Mimesis

This book concerns the place of minority religions in Italy, against the scenario of the processes that characterize contemporary societies – secularization, laicization, Europeanization, immigration – and of the tensions that they trigger or bring to light. Does the process of secularization have the same effects for the different religious communities – their internal organization, their ways of understanding and expressing the faith and the religious, how they are dealt with in the public and the political spheres? What is the configuration of secularism, in the sense of separation between religious and political institutions, in the light of the transformations of the contemporary religious?

And what is the impact of the Europeanization process? In particular, how does the redistribution of competences to supra- and sub-national governments impacts on the geometries of secularism? Does Europeanization have a secularizing effect? How the ‘religious’ dimension of immigration is dealt with, from an intersectional point of view?

These are the questions that orient the volume. In particular, specific attention is given to the complex interweaving (local, national and international) of laws, norms, regulations and jurisprudence which constitute the normative scenario of minority religions in Italy.

Drawing mainly on data collected in the framework of the ERC project “Grassrootsmobilise Directions in Religious Pluralism in Europe – Examining Grassroots Mobilisations in the Shadow of European Court of Human Rights Religious Freedom Jurisprudence” the volume is structured in five chapters.

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Journal Special Issue: European Court of Human Rights and minority religions

Religion, State and Society, 2017, 45 (3-4)

This special issue is devoted to an exploration of a disconnect between messages generated by the ECtHR through its case law and messages received at the grassroots level, in the domain of minority religious claims. Specifically, the contributions in this special issue critically assess some of the Court’s case law dealing with religious minority claims in terms of that case law’s clarity, consistency and controversiality, and they offer insight into the grassroots level impact of the Court’s case law on religious minority claims (and, specifically, claims to do with legal status).

Roughly divided, the first five contributions speak to the former matter, and the last five to the latter. And most derive from papers presented at a conference on Religion and Human Rights at the University of Padova in April 2016, organised within the International Joint PhD programme on ‘Human Rights, Society, and Multilevel Governance’. That conference allowed scholars who were working on various aspects of the work of the ECtHR to meet and interact in various sessions. Out of that interaction came the idea of developing a special issue on the work of the Court. The first five contributions are by scholars who presented independently on different panels at the latter conference, and the second batch of contributions showcase research conducted in the context of the Grassrootsmobilise Research Programme, four of which were presented on a panel on ‘Legal Status of Religious Minorities: Exploring the Impact of the European Court of Human Rights’ at the Padova conference (Fokas’ contribution was drafted subsequently).

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God’s Advocates: The multiple fronts of the war on blasphemy in Greece

Effie Fokas

eds. Jeroen Temperman and András Koltay, Blasphemy and Freedom of Expression: Comparative, Theoretical and Historical Reflections after the Charlie Hebdo Massacre, (2017) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 389-410

‘God’s advocates’ refers to a broad range of actors who individually and together form a support system for the existence and application of the blasphemy laws in Greece. Specifically, their aim is to purge the offences against God, Christianity, the Greek Orthodox Church, and against the religious sentiments of individuals, from the Greek public square. They are assisted in this by certain corners of the political and judicial class. This chapter describes the work of God’s advocates while presenting some of the most important cases in which the blasphemy laws have been applied in a number of fronts of Greek social and cultural life. The text then examines the subsequent political (and notably not legal) mobilization of activists and artists working both at the national and international level towards the abolishment of these laws.  Navigating between a highly active effort from amongst the ranks of the Orthodox Church and the multilevel forces in the campaign against the laws, the chapter brings to life the current volatile battle in the Greek political scene over the decriminalization of blasphemy, and offers insight into the indeterminateness of that battle’s outcome.

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