ECHR | Public interest supersedes liturgical needs of religious community encroaching on public sphere

European Court of Human Rights (ECHR): A Three- Judge Bench of Krzysztof Wojtyczek (President) and Armen Harutyunyan, Pere Pastor Vilanova dismissed the application of the complainant calling it “manifestly ill-founded”.

The congregation of the ‘True Orthodox Christians’ appropriated a public green space belonging to the Greek national navy and transformed it into a place of worship in September 2016. However, the police evacuated the premises for the purposes of constructing the Athens Mosque in November 2016. In December 2016, Ms. Pantelidou and other adherents of the group brought an action for annulment for the construction of the mosque, but their case was dismissed by the Council of State. The church was finally demolished in August 2018.

Pantelidou lodged an application with the European Court of Human Rights on 04-07-2019 complaining infringement of her right as secured under Article 9 (right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion), considering that she had been prevented from acceding to her place of worship.

In its decision, the Council of State had pointed out that the “True Orthodox Christians” church was installed and operating in a publicly-owned area, in a building which had been erected by the Greek National Navy, and that those premises had been arbitrarily occupied by persons unknown between June and September 2016. Furthermore, some of the National Navy installations had already been expropriated by the State with a view to building the Athens Mosque, in accordance with the law. Work had already started on the Mosque when the building had been converted into a church by the congregation in question, in breach of the provisions governing the urban planning status of the neighbourhood. The Court ruled that the public interest of rational urban development could not be superseded by the liturgical needs of a religious community that had arbitrarily encroached on the public sphere in order to establish and operate a place of worship inconsistent with the urban development plan. Consequently, having regard to the margin of appreciation enjoyed by States in the area of urban planning and development, the Court held that the impugned measure had been justified in principle and been proportionate to the aim being pursued. [Pantelidou v. Greece, Application No. 36267 of 19, decided on 10-10-2019]

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