By failing to recognize the importance of religion and its relationship to human rights, European courts are progressively eroding religious liberty.
At the end of May, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (the final European Court of Appeal) rejected a request for referral to it of three contentious religious freedom cases from the United Kingdom. This means that the European Court’s initial less-than-friendly rulings on religious freedom still stand, and they will undoubtedly help erode respect for religious freedom throughout Europe.
The court, under the auspices of the Council of Europe, is distinct from the agencies of the European Union, and processes litigation from forty-seven countries, including Russia and Turkey. Over the years, the council’s Parliamentary Assembly has betrayed an endemic suspicion of religion, and following a tradition of French secularism, has tended to see religion as a threat to human freedom, instead of its possible basis.
This thinking can be traced to the later French Enlightenment, with its exaltation of a rationalism that led to materialism, and markedly differs from the early Enlightenment thought of John Locke. Locke believed reason was rooted in divine nature, the “candle of the Lord” as he put it. His deep influence on English politics in the Glorious Revolution of 1689 and the American founding resulted in documents that upheld a divine grounding for human rights.