Scharffs and Durham at Grassrootsmobilise Conference Kokkinakis Book Launch in Athens

The International Center for Law and Religion Studies hosted a launch of the book The Kokkinakis Papers: Taking Stock of 25 years of ECHR Jurisprudence on Freedom of Religion or Belief at the conference Between State and Citizen: Religion at the ECtHR, held 4 May 2018 in Athens, Greece. Center Director Brett Scharffs participated on a roundtable discussion at the conference – “Do we need the ECtHR to protect religious freedom?” – with participants Nicos Alivizatos, Malcolm Evans, Ronan McCrea, Renáta Uitz, and Lucy Vickers, moderated by ICLRS Founding Director Cole Durham. 

Other participants in the conference included Effie Fokas, Ceren Ozgul, Margarita Markoviti, Pasquale Annicchino, Alberta Giorgi, Liviu Andreescu, Mihai Popa, Dia Anagnostou, Marco Ventura, Julie Ringelheim, Panos Bitsaxis, Panayote Dimitra, Yannis Ktistakis, Andrea Williams, Lisa Harms, Jeremy Gunn, Ahmed Shaheed, Silvio Ferrari, and Grace Davie.

The conference was preceded by a Public Event on 3 May – “Religion and Secularism: Does the Court go too far – or not far enough?” This event brought together former ECtHR judges and scholars – Professor Eva Brems, Judge Ann Power-Forde, Judge Christos Tozakis, and Professor Joseph H. H. Weller – 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 was organized 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).

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.