Seminal cases on freedom of religion?

A colleague recently asked me for a list of what I thought were the half-dozen or so seminal UK and European cases on freedom of religion. It’s a very interesting question and I replied in terms of the modern case-law rather than delving into the historical stuff. Inevitably, my answers were somewhat subjective: for example, I wondered about including Watkins-Singh in the list but decided that the key case on religious dress was Begum. I also thought very hard about including Laws LJ’s judgment in McFarlane but decided that it was about the priority of secular law rather than about freedom of religion.

I came up with the following:

  • Arrowsmith v United Kingdom [1978] ECHR 7: What is a “manifestation”?
  • Re South Place Ethical Society [1980] 1 WLR: What is a “religion”?
  • Campbell and Cosans v United Kingdom [1982] ECHR 1: What is a “philosophical belief”?
  • Kalaç v Turkey [1997] ECHR 37: Can an employer restrict an employee’s religious activity?
  • R (Williamson & Ors) v Secretary of State for Education and Employment & Ors [2005] UKHL 15: How far must religious convictions be respected?
  • R (Begum) v Headteacher and Governors of Denbigh High School [2006] UKHL 15Education and the right to manifest: how far can you go?
  • R (E) v Governing Body of JFS & Anor [2009] UKSC 15Does the religious definition of a particular religious identity trump the secular one?
  • Eweida & Ors v United Kingdom [2013] ECHR 37What kinds of “manifestation” are protected by Article 9 ECHR?
  • R (Hodkin) & Anor v Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages [2013] UKSC 77: What is a “religion”?

So those are my picks: what’s yours?


2 thoughts on “Seminal cases on freedom of religion?

  1. I’d add:

    Bull & Anor v Hall & Anor [2013] UKSC 73 – because it’s made explicit that religious belief (no matter how sincere) does not exempt you from the requirement to obey the law (i.e., ‘freedom of religion’ does not include ‘freedom to break the law’).

    Grainger Plc v Nicholson [2010] ICR 360 – expanding your criteria to include freedom of belief, because Grainger means that anyone’s philosophical beliefs count, not just ones that fall into a ‘group’.

    I wouldn’t include Watkins-Singh either, because that was mostly decided on race, not religion.

    • Agreed. I was trying to keep the list within reasonable bounds and took Campbell and Cosans to be the foundational case for the proposition that Article 9 protects philosophical beliefs as well as religious ones – which is why I didn’t include Grainger. But I should have included Bull.

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