Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter November 24, 2016

Claims of Religious Morality: The Limits of Religious Freedom in International Human Rights Law

  • Alison Mawhinney EMAIL logo


The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion is not a constant. As human rights law has progressively acquired a conceptual status as a means of reconciling tensions, the substantive legal content of the right to freedom to manifest religion or belief has widened. This paper argues that the admittance of claims of religious morality within this expanded understanding of the right exposes the conceptual imprecision underlying the right and presents a complex challenge to human rights supervisory bodies to address such claims without undermining their founding objectives. The first part of the paper traces the historical treatment of the right to freedom of religion or belief as a means of understanding its evolving and multifaceted nature. Part II draws on this overview to develop a taxonomy of aspects of the right and, in particular, it suggests that claims of religious morality ought to be viewed and treated as a distinct facet. The final part of the paper examines a group of recent cases before the European Court of Human Rights to explore current judicial responses to such claims and considers the risks posed by claims of religious morality for the contemporary right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.


I would like to thank Bob Morris and two anonymous referees for their helpful comments.

Published Online: 2016-11-24
Published in Print: 2016-11-1

©2016 by De Gruyter

Downloaded on 25.3.2023 from
Scroll Up Arrow