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Directions in Religious Pluralism in Europe: Examining Grassroots Mobilisations in Europe in the Shadow of European Court of Human Rights Religious Freedom Jurisprudence

Final Report Summary - GRASSROOTSMOBILISE (Directions in Religious Pluralism in Europe: Examining Grassroots Mobilisations in Europe in the Shadow of European Court of Human Rights Religious Freedom Jurisprudence)

Predicated on the notion that the ‘direct’ effects of courts (i.e. the prompting of legal reform), entail only small proportion of courts’ broader potential effects on society, Grassrootsmobilise set out to trace the ‘indirect’ effects of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR or the Court), in the domain of religion. Specifically, Grassrootsmobilise aimed to understand the extent to which ECtHR religion-related decisions lead to a shift in grassroots social actors’ conceptions of their rights, in their discourse about those rights and in their propensity to pursue those rights. How relevant and useful is the ECtHR in the domain of religion at the grassroots level, and what impact might it be having on religious pluralism ‘on the ground’?

Grassrootsmobilise pursued these questions though fundamentally multidisciplinary research: carried out by a team of political scientists, social anthropologists, sociologists of religion and one lawyer, the project employed a combination of qualitative and quantitative research methods drawn from these disciplines. Empirical research was conducted in Greece, Italy, Romania and Turkey – all countries in which strong relationships between religion and national identity, and between religion and the state, render highly salient, in theory at least, the Court’s pronouncements that bear the potential to influence the public place of religion. The selection of cases represents a spectrum of levels of democratization and Europeanisation and aimed to bring to light the significance of each of these dimensions when it comes to the impact of the ECtHR on the ground.

Grassrootsmobilise identified a significant gap between the powerful impact of the Court on religious pluralism in terms of its direct effects, on the one hand, and its muted indirect effects in this domain at the grassroots level, on the other. Thus the ECtHR bears a tremendous yet largely untapped potential to influence the rights consciousness and rights pursuit of grassroots actors with a vested interest in religion-related matters.

The most conspicuous reason for this unfulfilled potential is the low levels of awareness of the Court’s case law exhibited by grassroots level actors, though with significant variations in the latter based on such structural and contextual factors as: national political and legal opportunity structures (e.g. is political lobbying likely to be more effective than litigating in a given country context on a given issue?); where the ECtHR stands within the national legal order (de jure and de facto, are its decisions respected by national courts); where the majority faith stands within the ‘national religious order’ (how privileged is it vis-à-vis other groups, and to what effects?); and the national track record in relation to the ECtHR (both in terms of the volume and content of the ECtHR case law against the state in question, and the extent to that state tends to implement the Court’s decisions). There are also significant variations from one conscience-based group to the other, depending on such factors as a group’s general orientation towards litigation and its employment of in-house legal counsel.

The Court does have an important impact at the grassroots level, but that impact tends to be through messages about the Court that are ‘translated’ and transmitted by lawyers or other ‘interpreters’ of the case law, to varying degrees of accuracy. Therefore the notion of ‘impact’ must be nuanced, recognizing that grassroots impact of the Court is highly contextual.

Grassrootsmobilise ascertained that case law in general and the ECtHR specifically are perceived by many social actors as only of interest to and ‘penetrable’ by people with legal expertise. This is by far the most prevalent reason presented for grassroots actors’ low levels of engagement with ECtHR case law. Simultaneously, grassroots social actors express a strong interest in learning about the Court and its case law relevant to their concerns. But they would like to learn through relatively effortless and ‘unintimidating’ means which vernacularize the Court’s decisions for non-legal audiences. This suggests that novel approaches to disseminating information about the Court and its case law could go a long way towards enhancing religious pluralism on the ground in Europe and towards bridging a gap between citizens and this European institution.