Neutrality, Proselytism, and Religious Minorities at the European Court of Human Rights and the U.S. Supreme Court

by Nicholas Hatzis Harvard ILJ OnlineVol 49 June 22, 2009
The existence of every new, non-mainstream, or minority religious group depends on the ability to make its doctrines known and to proselytize new members. Only by persuading people to change their religious affiliation (or in case of atheists or agnostics, to adopt one for the first time) will a group be able to survive as a religious community. While minority religions may on occasion compete against each other for new adherents, for practical reasons, their main target group will be the membership of the majority religion, who may react by lobbying the legislature and the administration to impose restrictions on religious teaching by minorities. This is not only a contemporary phenomenon. Michael McConnell notes that in 18th century Virginia, the most intolerant of the colonies, the Church of England was the established church and the authorities blocked efforts by Presbyterians and Baptists to preach their faith. More recently, the prohibition of proselytism came before the European Court of Human Rights in Kokkinakis v. Greece.2
Kokkinakis is a seminal case, not only in its discussion of the issues of religious teaching and proselytism, but also for its discussion of freedom of religion in general.
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