The ECHR found a violation of the requirements of Article 14 of the Convention.

Заголовок: The ECHR found a violation of the requirements of Article 14 of the Convention. Сведения: 2024-07-07 03:55:38

The ECHR Ruling of June 08, 2021 in the case of the Ancient Baltic Religious Association Romuva v. Lithuania (complaint No. 48329/19).

In 2011, the applicant association was assisted in preparing a complaint. Subsequently, the complaint was communicated to Lithuania.

The case appeals against the refusal of the Lithuanian authorities to recognize the status of a pagan religious organization that meets the criteria of legality on grounds incompatible with the State's obligation to maintain neutrality and impartiality. The case involved a violation of the requirements of article 14 of the Convention.

 

THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE

 

The applicant Association, which is a religious organization established under Lithuanian law and consisting of several religious communities professing the ancient Baltic pagan faith, applied for the status of a State-recognized religious association. This status would allow it to receive a number of privileges, namely, it would give its clergy the right to perform a religious wedding ceremony that has the legal force of civil registration of marriage, would give the association the right to provide religious education in schools, the right to receive airtime for broadcasting its religious services, the right to exemption from paying land tax and would give its clergy the right to receive social benefits at the expense of the state.

The Lithuanian Ministry of Justice concluded that the applicant association had fulfilled all the requirements provided for by law. The draft resolution proposing recognition of the applicant association, submitted by a group of members of the Seimas (Parliament of Lithuania), was reviewed and supported by other public authorities, including the Government of Lithuania. However, in the end, after two discussions, the Sejm did not adopt a resolution. The Seimas Ethics and Procedure Commission and the Administrative Court of First Instance upheld the applicant association's complaints about defamatory and false statements made by members of the Seimas during the second discussion. The consideration of the case by the courts of second instance has not yet been completed.

 

LEGAL ISSUES

 

Regarding compliance with article 14 of the Convention, considered in conjunction with article 9 of the Convention. Based on the circumstances of the case, article 14 of the Convention was applicable in conjunction with article 9 of the Convention.

(a) Whether there was a difference in treatment compared to persons in a similar or relatively similar situation. The applicant association was in a similar or relatively similar position compared to other non-traditional religious associations that had received a positive assessment from the Lithuanian Ministry of Justice. Several of these organizations have been recognized by the Seimas. In the present case, it followed from the statements of various members of the Seimas voiced during the discussions, as well as from the comments of the Lithuanian authorities submitted to the European Court, that the refusal was mostly motivated by arguments related to the essence of religious beliefs. Accordingly, the difference in treatment was due to religious grounds.

(b) Whether the difference in treatment was justified. The European Court first of all noted that none of the Lithuanian laws or examples of case law of Lithuanian courts submitted to the European Court indicated the grounds on which the Seimas could refuse recognition by the authorities of a religious association, in respect of which the Ministry had already given a positive opinion. Also, these materials did not specify whether the Seimas could appeal the recommendation of the Ministry. This situation could lead to arbitrariness in the decision-making process, and also limited the ability of religious associations to know with sufficient certainty the relevant criteria that were taken into account when deciding on the status of associations and demonstrate their compliance. In addition, since the Sejm is an influential authority, the appropriate nature of parliamentary procedures meant the risk that granting or refusing to grant a certain status to a religious organization could be related to political events and situations. Indeed, in the present case, both the applicant association and the Lithuanian authorities suggested that the appealed decision could be a "personal revenge" on the part of some members of the Seimas against a particular politician, which indicated the possibility of just such a risk.

Despite this, the European Court should have limited itself to determining whether the method of application of Lithuanian law in the present case was such as to result in a violation of the provisions of the Convention, rather than making a decision in abstracto. When considering whether the refusal was based on reasonable and objective reasons, the task of the European Court was to determine whether the applicant association was given a fair opportunity to apply for the status of a State-recognized organization and whether the criteria provided for by Lithuanian law were applied without discrimination. Moreover, the task of the European Court was not to determine whether the applicant association should have been granted the specified status or not. Since the appealed decision did not contain any grounds, the European Court considered the arguments presented by the members of the Seimas during the discussions. The European Court has established the following.

Grounds related to national security. The alleged links between the activities of the applicant association and the policies of the KGB or the Kremlin have not been confirmed by any of the Lithuanian State authorities. Also, the Lithuanian authorities did not claim that the applicant association could pose any danger to national security, and the European Court was not notified of any procedures in Lithuania that would be associated with this risk.

Doubts about the "religious" nature of the applicant association's activities and the existence of the "Baltic faith". Neither the Seimas nor other Lithuanian authorities claimed that the beliefs of the applicant association had not reached the required level of persuasiveness, seriousness, consistency and significance, or that the applicant association could be compared to a parody of religion such as Pastafarianism, Jedaism and Dudeism. The applicant association was registered as a religious association, and the relevant State authorities did not dispute its religious character before the discussions in the Seimas. Thus, the assessment by the members of the Seimas mainly questioned the legality of the applicant association's beliefs and the ways in which these beliefs were expressed, which, as the European Court has repeatedly stressed, did not comply with the State's obligation to maintain neutrality and impartiality.

The actual or alleged relationship of the applicant association with Christianity. Several members of the Seimas pointed out that the majority of Lithuanians were Catholics, and referred to the historical significance of Christianity in Lithuania and the consequences of state recognition of a pagan religious association for Lithuania's relations with the "Christian world". Moreover, a letter from the Conference of Bishops of Lithuania, which was directly referred to and the contents of which were discussed during the second parliamentary debate, was distributed among more than half of the members of the Seimas, without assessing its possible consequences. In this regard, it was also important that, while granting the status of recognized by the state to other new religious organizations, the Seimas several times noted the good relations of these organizations with the Catholic Church. In one such case, a letter from a representative of the Catholic Church, positive in content, was submitted to the Seimas as confirmation for granting the relevant organization the status recognized by the state. However, the task of the Lithuanian authorities was not to eliminate the cause of tension by rejecting pluralism, but to ensure that the opposing groups treated each other with tolerance. Consequently, the European Court could not accept that the existence of a religion held by the majority of the Lithuanian population, or the existence of alleged tension between the applicant association and the main religion of the State, or the rejection of the specified religion by the Lithuanian authorities could be objective and justified justifications for the refusal of recognition by the Lithuanian authorities of the applicant association. In addition, according to the case law of the Constitutional Court of Lithuania, the principle of separation of Church and State was the basis for secularism in the State of Lithuania. The State was obliged to remain neutral in matters of beliefs and had no right to establish a mandatory system of views. Finally, with regard to the Lithuanian authorities' assertion that in most Catholic countries pagan religious movements did not enjoy any privileges in their relations with the State, the European Court reiterated that the limits of discretion of States could not be wider or narrower depending on the nature of religious beliefs. Thus, a different attitude towards the applicant association compared to other religious associations in a similar situation could not be justified by the nature of the faith professed by the applicant association.

Consequently, the Lithuanian authorities did not provide reasonable and objective grounds for treating the applicant association in a manner different from that of other religious associations in a similar situation, and the members of the Seimas who voted against recognizing the applicant association as a State were not neutral or impartial in the exercise of their regulatory powers.

 

RESOLUTION

 

The case involved a violation of the requirements of article 14 of the Convention, considered in conjunction with article 9 of the Convention (adopted unanimously).

The European Court also found a violation of Article 13 of the Convention due to the lack of effective remedies in respect of the appealed decision of the Seimas.

 

COMPENSATION

 

In the application of article 41 of the Convention. The applicant Association did not submit any claims for damages.

 

 

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