OFFICE OF THE COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Strasbourg, 12 December 2001
CommDH 2001/15 Or. French
CONCLUSIONS OF THE SEMINAR
ON CHURCH-STATE RELATIONS IN THE LIGHT OF THE EXERCISE OF THE RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF RELIGION
ORGANISED BY MR ALVARO GIL-ROBLES,
COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS,
(Strasbourg, 10-11 December 2001)
At the request of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, we, representatives of monotheistic religions or members of the administrations of Council of Europe member states, have discussed the effects of the institutional relations between Churches and States on the exercise of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion embodied in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR). We welcome the key role played by the Council of Europe in safeguarding human rights, a role which is reinforced by the work done by its Commissioner for Human Rights.
We acknowledge that, for historical reasons, there is a wide variety of laws and regulations in Council of Europe member states governing relations between Churches and religious communities and the State. Nevertheless, we reaffirm the fundamental right to manifest one's religion, either alone or in community with others, and the right of religious associations to organise themselves freely and decide on the content of their spiritual beliefs, in accordance with Article 9 of the ECHR and the principles set out in other international instruments. Nor should there be any discrimination between religions, as stipulated in Article 14 of the ECHR.
We confirm the need to grant religious believers and representatives the right to freedom of association through the establishment of a legal entity to ensure the free exercise of the right to freedom of religion, provided that such religious communities carry out their activities in accordance with the principles set out in the ECHR, in particular Articles 9 and 11.
We believe that all Council of Europe member states must grant religious communities the necessary rights to enable them to fully enjoy the rights set out in Article 9. Such rights must be granted to ensure equal treatment of the different religions without any distinction based on historical traditions or the number of believers. In this context both official checking prior to registration and substantive control by the state must be carried out solely in accordance with the stipulations of Articles 9, para. 2, and 11 of the ECHR. As part of this minimal level of recognition, religious associations ought to be granted, where appropriate, the same financial benefits as any other non-profit making association.
Religious communities which, in addition to the rights already granted under Articles 9 and 11 of the ECHR, wish to take part in activities that are in the public interest, should be granted the same advantages as given to other legal entities with similar aims.
The participants acknowledge that certain religious communities may be granted a special status. This does not constitute a discrimination provided that co-operation between these communities and the state is based on objective and reasonable criteria such as their historical or cultural relevance, representativeness or usefulness to society as a whole or to a large or specific sector of the population. The state also has a positive obligation to help preserve the religious, cultural or historical heritage that religious communities have contributed to mankind over the centuries.
The participants encourage religious communities to co-operate in a spirit of mutual understanding and respect and, as key partners of the national authorities, to contribute to the study, discussion and resolution of the main problems currently facing society.