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ECHR rules Flanders ban on visible religious symbol in schools compatible with freedom of religion

Autor: jurist.org

ECHR rules Flanders ban on visible religious symbol in schools compatible with freedom of religion News

ECHR rules Flanders ban on visible religious symbol in schools compatible with freedom of religion

The Flemish Community’s ban on wearing any visible symbols during the educational activities does not run counter to freedom of religion, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled Thursday. It followed the decision given by the Constitutional Court in Belgium assessing based on the c0ncept of neutrality.

In the case of Mikyas and Others v. Belgium, the applicants, three Muslim girls, complained that they were unable to wear the Islamic headscarf in their secondary school because of that prohibition implemented by the Council of the Flemish Community. This rule was extended in 2009, and applied to all school activities except some specific ethic classes. Although their parents, who were the legal representatives of the applicants in the beginning of the proceedings, had signed the school regulations in advance, they lodged the claim before the ECHR for the envisaged violations of several provisions under the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention), including Article 9 regulating the freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

The ECHR dismissed the claim because the regulation in question did not discriminate on the religion, but ruled out general prohibition of wearing visible symbols. Besides the discretion each authority enjoys, the Court pointed out the vulnerability of pupils in schools who might feel exclusion or pressure in case without the forbidding. Therefore, in order to protect freedom and rights of others, such ruling was proportionate and met the necessity in a society.

Furthermore, the ECHR mainly took into account two previous cases in Belgium. Firstly, the Belgian Constitutional Court admitted Article 24 of the Belgian constitution guaranteed the freedom of choice of school by parents. Also, since the constitution sets up the concept of neutrality under the same constitutional provision, the Constitutional Court has declared the admissibility of the regulation decided by the Council of the Flemish Community. These cases supported the reasonings given by the ECHR in the present case.

In the past, the Court of Justice of European Union (EU) has declared the admissibility of the ban on wearing headscarves for employees when it was justified by its legitimate aim, proportionality and necessity. Since most of the contracting members of the Convention are the parties of the EU, the discussion regarding such prohibition is continuously ruled.  However, the discretion available to the authorities to limit wearing symbols is still controversial in Europe.

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