ADF International


ECHR rules in favour of church autonomy

Churches cannot be forced to employ teachers of religion who disagree with church teaching; European Court of Human Rights protects religious freedom of Catholic Church in Croatia

STRASBOURG – Yesterday the European Court of Human Rights handed down judgment in the case of Travaš v. Croatia. The Court held that churches have the freedom to select, appoint, and replace their personnel in accordance with Church teaching and without undue state interference. The Court agreed with ADF International’s arguments that the autonomy of churches is protected under the Convention.

Religious institutions must have the freedom to set rules and standards governing who can teach religious education in church schools

“Religious institutions must have the freedom to set rules and standards governing who can teach religious education in church schools. The European Court of Human Rights has consistently protected the principle of church autonomy. In this case, the Court upheld the right of the Catholic Church to hold a teacher of religion to the same doctrines he was supposed to be teaching. The ruling has positive implications for all European Churches,” said Robert Clarke, Director of European Advocacy for ADF International which intervened as a third party before the Court.

Personal life not in line with doctrine

Peter Travaš was a teacher of religion at a Catholic school in Croatia. He divorced his wife and, in 2006, remarried in a civil ceremony. The church then revoked the special permission required from the local Catholic Bishop to teach Catholic religious instruction as his personal life was not in line with the church’s doctrine on marriage and therefore he was not allowed to teach. The school tried to find another post for him where he would not be teaching religion. However, there was no alternative job available at that time and, consequently, he was removed from his teaching role.

Travaš challenged his dismissal in the Croatian Courts, culminating in a failed appeal to the Constitutional Court. It held that the school and the church had acted in accordance with Croatian law. Travaš then brought the case before the European Court of Human Rights in 2013. He complained that his right to private and family life had been violated. The Court unanimously dismissed his appeal, holding that there was no violation of his rights under the Convention.

“It is for each and every church to set its own doctrine, and the State must respect the internal autonomy of churches and religious institutions. If a person does not comply with church teaching, the church should not be forced to allow that person to teach religion classes in their schools,” said Lorcán Price, Legal Counsel for ADF International.

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Faith-based legal advocacy organization that protects fundamental freedoms and promotes the inherent dignity of all people.