The Role of the European Court of
[It] appears difficult to reconcile the wearing of an
Islamic scarf with the message of tolerance, respect for
others, and, above all, equality and non-discrimination.
JUDGMENT OF THE EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN
RIGHTS, Dahlab v. Switzerland
In national and international courts, cases concerning freedom of religion and religious symbols raise critical questions about the limits of religious freedom in the increasingly diverse societies of the West, in the European Union, and beyond. On the one hand, these cases signify a growing tension between cultural extension and the legal enforcement of human rights, including freedom of religion and belief; on the other hand, the cases reflect an increased vigilance in relation to religious practices, especially those that reflect Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” and consider restrictions on religious freedom in the name of public order.1 The cases, especially in Europe, also disclose “the growth of pan-European legal discourse of religious symbols not only as text, but as a mechanism, however broad and ambiguous, of social control.”2 Decisions of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in these cases illustrate the pertinence of such a statement.
Although the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention), created by the Council of Europe as a regional agreement, was strongly influenced by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it contains a more precise expression of specific rights and has made a great contribution by raising awareness of human rights issues on the European continent.3 The ECHR,