Limitations Strictly Interpreted

Contrary to the unconditional and absolute right to hold a religion or belief, the freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief through worship, observance, practice and teaching may be subject to limitations by the State, but “only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.”[38] Limitations for any other reason, such as national security, are prohibited.

These limitations are strictly interpreted under rigorous international standards. States must proceed from their obligation to protect the guaranteed right to religious freedom, including the right to equality and non-discrimination. Limitations imposed must be established by law and must not be applied in a manner that undermines the right to religious freedom.

The Human Rights Committee and the European Court of Human Rights have instructed officials “to remain neutral and impartial” on religious matters and have been loath to accept any restrictions on religion, viewing any contested measures with “strict scrutiny.”[39] Limitations may be applied only for those purposes for which they were designed; they must be directly related and proportionate to the specific need they were designed to address. Restrictions may not be imposed for discriminatory purposes or applied in a discriminatory manner. Any restrictions on the freedom to manifest a religion or belief for the purpose of protecting morals must be based on principles not deriving exclusively from a single tradition. [40]

[38] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 18 (3); European Convention on Human Rights, Article 9 (2).

[39] Manoussakis Others v. Greece, (59/1995/565/651), 26 September 1996, ¶ 44; United Nations Human Rights Committee General Comment 22, ¶ 8.

[40] United Nations Human Rights Committee General Comment 22, ¶ 8; Metropolitan Church of Bessarabia and Others v. Moldova (App. 45701), 2001.

XVII. Rising Social Hostility against Religion in the Media