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Petr Agha


The issue of religious symbols in the public space has given rise to widespread debate on the scope of freedom of religion and of the State’s neutrality in various countries around the world. Over the years, it has become a source of vigorous legal and political controversy. In Europe in particular, this question chiefly concerns the wearing of headscarves. Bans (often formulated as either bans on headgear or as general bans on religious symbols or dress) have been introduced by many countries and in many areas of life. Islamic dress tends to be commonly perceived (at least in the west) as being associated with the subordination of young girls and women and the perceived link with what is commonly termed “Islamic fundamentalism”. The wearing of religious symbols has been discussed both from a socio-political as well as legal perspective. These developments, particularly attempts to change a cultural reticence to publicly express faith into a legal obligation to refrain from religious expression in certain circumstances, have brought major challenges for European human rights law, most notably in relation to the wearing of religious dress. Although most European legal systems provide protection for religious freedom and to religious minorities, the scope of this protection is affected by many factors, such as history, (constitutional) traditions and social factors. In essence, the term European human rights culture developed in the interplay of jurisprudence between The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The text explores the two recent CJEU rulings and juxtaposes it against the recent developments in the ECtHR jurisprudence, focusing on how CJEU departs from the established manner set out by the ECtHR of dealing with cases involving the limitations on fundamental rights. The purpose of this is to present a reflection of the recent state of the European human rights culture, which has, in the past years, become very dynamic.

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