Ban on converting a public building into a place of worship for a religious group. The prohibition is justified due to violations of urban planning legislation.
Pantelidou v. Greece 10.10.2019 (no. 36267/19)
Transformation of a public property into a place of worship and the right to religious freedom. The applicant, who is a member of the Church of True Orthodox Christians, alleged that her right to religious was violated because it was forbidden for her religious community to use a public building as a place of worship in breach of city planning.
The Court pointed out that the public interest in rational urban development could not be replaced by the functional needs of a religious community that had arbitrarily seized public property to establish and operate a place of worship in violation of the relevant urban development plan.
Consequently, having regard to the States’ discretion with regard to regional and urban planning, the Court held that the measure at issue was in principle justified and proportionate to the objective pursued (prevention of public unrest and protection of the rights and freedoms of others). Inadmissible appeal.
The applicant, Aikaterini-Veatriki Pantelidou, is a Greek national who was born in 1951 and lives in Athens.
In September 2016 the congregation of the “True Orthodox Christians” (adhering to the Julian calendar for religious festivals) appropriated a public green space belonging to the Greek national navy and transformed it into a place of worship.
In November 2016 the police evacuated the premises for the purposes of constructing the Athens Mosque, work on which had just begun. Access to the church attended by Ms Pantelidou was prohibited.
In December 2016 Ms Pantelidou and other adherents of the group brought an action for annulment, but their case was dismissed by the Council of State.
The church was demolished in August 2018.
THE DECISION OF THE COURT
Article 9 (right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion)
In its decision the Council of State had pointed out that the “True Orthodox Christians” church was installed and operating in a publicly-owned area, in a building which had been erected by the Greek National Navy, and that those premises had been arbitrarily occupied by persons unknown between June and September 2016. Furthermore, some of the National Navy installations had already been expropriated by the State with a view to building the Athens Mosque, in accordance with the law.
Work had already started on the Mosque when the building had been converted into a church by the congregation in question, in breach of the provisions governing the urban planning status of the neighbourhood.
The Court ruled that the public interest of rational urban development could not be superseded by the liturgical needs of a religious community which had arbitrarily encroached on the public sphere in order to establish and operate a place of worship inconsistent with the urban development plan.
Consequently, having regard to the margin of appreciation enjoyed by States in the area of urban planning and development, the Court held that the impugned measure had been justified in principle and been proportionate to the aim be pursued.
The applicant was therefore manifestly ill-founded (Article 35 §§ 3 (a) and Article 4 of the Convention).