Birth registration and religion in Greece: Stavropoulos and Papanikolaou

In Stavropoulos and Others v Greece 52484/18 [2020] ECHR 493, when Mr and Mrs Stavropoulos registered the birth of their daughter – the third applicant – her birth record included in brackets an abbreviation of the word ονοματοδοσία (“naming”), indicating that she had been named by her parents rather than christened. They argued that the law did not require registry offices to specify whether a child was named simply by a civil act or by baptism, and they claimed a violation of their Article 9 right to freedom of religion. They also argued that the entry revealed sensitive personal data, in breach of Article 8 (private and family life).

The First Section ECtHR found that there had been a violation of Article 9 and that there was no need to examine separately the complaint under Article 8. In brief:

“… the note ‘naming’ next to the third applicant’s first name carries a connotation, namely that she was not christened and that her name was given by the civil act of naming. That conclusion is further reinforced by the section concerning christening that is included in the birth registration act which … has been left blank. Such information appearing in a public document issued by the State constitutes an interference with the right of all of the applicants not to be obliged to manifest their beliefs, which is inherent in the notion of freedom of religion and conscience as protected by Article 9 …” [51].

Further:

“… given the frequent use of the birth certificate (for example for school registration), implying one’s religious beliefs in it exposes the bearers to the risk of discriminatory situations in their relations with the administrative authorities … That risk is even higher if one considers that, under Article 8 of Law no. 344/1976, registers are public …” [52].

The court awarded the applicants €10,000 damages plus costs.

The more fundamental issue of the requirement under Greek law to state a child’s religion on the birth certificate is also, currently, the subject of a further challenge in Papanikolaou v Greece (Application no 45794/19), in which the Court is being asked to rule on whether or not the requirement breaches Articles 8 and 9 ECHR. On 5 February 2020, the First Section sent the following question to the parties:

“Has there been a violation of the applicant’s right to freedom of religion, as guaranteed by Article 9 of the Convention, as a result of the requirement to declare her religion in the birth registration act of her daughter?”

The President of the Section has decided to give the application priority under Rule 41 and has asked the Hellenic Data Protection Authority whether it wishes to exercise the right to intervene and submit written comments on the case.

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Birth registration and religion in Greece: Stavropoulos and Papanikolaou" in Law & Religion UK, 1 July 2020, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2020/07/01/birth-registration-and-religion-in-greece-stavropoulos-and-papanikolaou/

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