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Manoussakis and others v. Greece, No. 18748/91, ECtHR (Chamber), 26 september 1996

Type Judgment
Case number 18748/91


Use of an apartment as a place of worship without prior governmental authorization. Criminal conviction. Breach of Article 9 of the ECHR.

Normative references

Art. 9 ECHR


1. The right to freedom of religion as guaranteed under the Convention excludes any discretion on the part of the State to determine whether religious beliefs or the means used to express such beliefs are legitimate.

2. The Contracting States enjoy a certain margin of appreciation in assessing the existence and extent of the necessity of an interference, but this margin is subject to the Court’s supervision, embracing both the legislation and the decisions applying it.  The Court’s task is to determine whether the measures taken at national level were justified in principle and proportionate. In delimiting the extent of the margin of appreciation in the present case the Court must have regard to what is at stake, namely the need to secure true religious pluralism, as an inherent feature of the notion of a democratic society.

3. The State cannot use the possibilities afforded by the legislative provisions pursuing the aim to impose rigid, or indeed prohibitive, conditions on manifesting religious beliefs. Therefore, the dilatory conduct of the governmental authority opposed to the request for authorization to open a place of worship constitutes a violation of article 9 of the ECHR.
(The case revolves around the criminal conviction of some Jehovah’s Witnesses who had used an apartment as a place of worship without having previously obtained the necessary governmental authorization. The Court considers that has been a violation of Article 9 of the ECHR, as the competent authority had maintained a dilatory conduct, refraining from concluding the procedure with an express provision)