The Recognition of Religious Freedom to For-profit Organisations: Could Europe Follow the United States?


The autonomy of religious organisations and tendency organisations is protected by national and international law. In EU law, Directive 2000/78 provides an exception to the principle of non-discrimination “in the case of occupational activities within churches and other public or private organisations the ethos of which is based on religion or belief”. As for the European Court of Human Rights, its case law guarantees the autonomy of religious organisations under article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In the US, the same principle is known as the “ministerial exception”. However, over the past ten years, the autonomy of religious organisations has considerably expanded in the US. More specifically, several judgements from the US Supreme Court have accepted that for-profit organisations could invoke exemptions from general laws in the name of religion. In Europe, the case law of the European Court of Human Rights has so far been opposed to this possibility. However, several elements seem to indicate that this position might be difficult to hold in the future. This paper addresses two issues. First, what are the sociological and legal arguments that plead for the recognition of freedom of religion to for-profit organisations? The study examines how these elements interact with the arguments invoked to deny the enjoyment of freedom of religion to these organisations. Second, if such an extension occurs, how can the current legal framework ensure that the fundamental rights of employees and customers remain protected in for-profit organisations willing to invoke freedom of religion?


Romain Mertens
Teaching Assistant, Law, Université de Namur, Belgium


Presentation Type

Paper Presentation in a Themed Session


The Politics of Religion



Digital Media

This presenter hasn’t added media.
Request media and follow this presentation.