Human Rights Acts

The Human Rights Acts used to be hot conversation. Every vaguely right-wing newspaper would rant about how they’d open the door to all sorts of nonsense. Developing stories, such as the tale of prisoners demanding pornography as their “human right,” didn’t help matters.

In the end, although I can’t find a reference, I don’t think that the case ever went to trial (note the link above is dated Winter 2003). Instead I seem to remember the prison governer losing his nerve and providing some porn anyway. That didn’t stop the acts being pilloried for the crime.

Refreshingly, reading about another court case has turned up some different viewpoints on the act. These are only citations, so don’t bring detailed information, but it’s often obvious what’s going on.

The Strasbourg institutions have not been at all ready to find an interference with the right to manifest religious belief in practice or observance where a person has voluntarily accepted an employment or role which does not accommodate that practice or observance and there are other means open to the person to practise or observe his or her religion without undue hardship or inconvenience. Thus in X v Denmark (1976) 5 DR 157 a clergyman was held to have accepted the discipline of his church when he took employment, and his right to leave the church guaranteed his freedom of religion. His claim under article 9 failed.

Thus we can guess he was told to obey the church authorities or leave, which seems reasonable.

In Kjeldsen, Busk Madsen and Pedersen v Denmark (1976) 1 EHRR 711, paras 54 and 57, parents’ philosophical and religious objections to sex education in state schools was rejected on the ground that they could send their children to state schools or educate them at home.

I.e. take your kids away from the school if you don’t like what’s being taught.

The applicant’s article 9 claim in Ahmad, above, paras 13, 14 and 15, failed because he had accepted a contract which did not provide for him to absent himself from his teaching duties to attend prayers, he had not brought his religious requirements to the employer’s notice when seeking employment and he was at all times free to seek other employment which would accommodate his religious observance.

Having agreed to work for someone, you can’t suddenly demand big changes in your working patterns for religious reasons.

Karaduman v Turkey (1993) 74 DR 93 is a strong case. The applicant was denied a certificate of graduation because a photograph of her without a headscarf was required and she was unwilling for religious reasons to be photographed without a headscarf. The Commission found (p 109) no interference with her article 9 right because (p 108) “by choosing to pursue her higher education in a secular university a student submits to those university rules, which may make the freedom of students to manifest their religion subject to restrictions as to place and manner intended to ensure harmonious coexistence between students of different beliefs”.

Originally these were taken from this report. There’s some more examples below. The big point is that for all these attempts to abuse the Human Rights Acts, common sense has stood firm. And I think that’s quite nice.

In rejecting the applicant’s claim in Konttinen v Finland (1996) 87-A DR 68 the Commission pointed out, in para 1, page 75, that he had not been pressured to change his religious views or prevented from manifesting his religion or belief; having found that his working hours conflicted with his religious convictions, he was free to relinquish his post. An application by a child punished for refusing to attend a National Day parade in contravention of her beliefs as a Jehovah’s Witness, to which her parents were also party, was similarly unsuccessful in Valsamis v Greece (1996) 24 EHRR 294. It was held (para 38) that article 9 did not confer a right to exemption from disciplinary rules which applied generally and in a neutral manner and that there had been no interference with the child’s right to freedom to manifest her religion or belief. In Stedman v United Kingdom (1997) 23 EHRR CD 168 it was fatal to the applicant’s article 9 claim that she was free to resign rather than work on Sundays. The applicant in KalaƧ, above, paras 28-29, failed because he had, in choosing a military career, accepted of his own accord a system of military discipline that by its nature implied the possibility of special limitations on certain rights and freedoms, and he had been able to fulfil the ordinary obligations of Muslim belief. In Jewish Liturgical Association Cha’are Shalom Ve Tsedek v France (2000) 9 BHRC 27, para 81, the applicants’ challenge to the regulation of ritual slaughter in France, which did not satisfy their exacting religious standards, was rejected because they could easily obtain supplies of meat, slaughtered in accordance with those standards, from Belgium.

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