Too Little, Too Late for Religious Freedom in Greece?

Blog post by Dr. 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.

Read the full post here.