Secularism at schools as a tool for social integration: the approach of the European Court of Human Rights


freedom of religion
social integration
republican secularism
liberal-pluralist secularism
religious diversity


When examining the cases on freedom of religion in the field of education, the European Court of Human Rights increasingly adopts the conception of hard or republican secularism. This approach has far-reaching implications for the Court’s understanding of social integration as a legitimate ground for the restriction on individual’s freedom. The judgement in Osmanoğlu and Kocabaş v. Switzerland and the cases on wearing of religious attire at school demonstrate that despite its claim to neutrality, the republican conception of secularism has its inherent presuppositions about what society should look like and which values such a society should embrace. In consequence, the application of this conception results in standardisation and homogenisation of the society according to secular and thus non-neutral ethos. This outcome is difficult to reconcile not only with equal respect for individual freedom of religion and moral autonomy, but also with general principles underlying its axiological structure, such as pluralism, tolerance, and broadmindedness.


M. Adrian, The principled slope: religious freedom and the European Court of Human Rights, ‘Religion, State and Society’ 2017, vol. 45, nos. 3-4, pp. 174-185.

S. Berry, Religious Freedom and the European Court of Human Rights’ Two Margins of Appreciation., ‘Religion and Human Rights’ 2017, no 12, pp. 198-209.

E. Bartholet, Homeschooling: Parent Rights Absolutism vs. Child Rights to Education & Protection, ‘Arizona Law Review’ 2020, vol. 62: 1, pp. 2 – 80.

F. Bretscher, Osmanoğlu and Kocabaş v. Switzerland: A Swiss perspective, ‘Strasbourg Observer’ 30 March 2017,, (accessed: 05.01.2021).

Burgess, K. T., The constitutionality of home education statutes, ‘UMKC Law Review’ 1986, no 55, pp. 69 – 84.

Discours de M. Jacques Chirac, Président de la République, sur le respect du principe de laïcité dans la République, Paris le 17 décembre 2003,, (accessed: 20.01.2021).

G. Du Plessis, The European Struggle with Religious Diversity: Osmanoğlu and Kocabas ̧ v. Switzerland, ‘Journal of Church and State’ 2018, vol. 60, issue 3, pp. 503-525.

S. A. Fernández Parra, ‘El margen nacional de apreciación y el contenido de la libertad de pensamiento conciencia y religión en el Convenio Europeo de Derechos Humanos, ‘Eunomía. Revista en Cultura de la Legalidad’ 2019, no 17, pp. 68-99.

C. Foltzenlogel Integration & Parental rights,, (accessed 30.12.2020).

M. Lugato. The ‘Margin of Appreciation’ and Freedom of Religion: Between Treaty Interpretation and Subsidiarity. ‘Journal of Catholic Legal Studies’ 2013, vol. 52, pp. 49-70.

J. Maclure, C. Taylor, Secularism and freedom of conscience. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London 2011.

W. A. Shabas, European Convention on Human Rights. A Commentary, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2015,

S. Trotter, ‘Living together, ‘learning together’, and ‘swimming together’: Osmanoglu and Kocabas v. Switzerland (2017) and the construction of collective life, ‘Human Rights Law Review’, March 2018, vol. 18, issue 1, (accessed: 12.01.2021).

J. Warwick Montgomery, The Justification of Homeschooling Vis-A-Vis the European Human Rights System, 25th IVR World Congress LAW SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY Frankfurt am Main 15–20 August 2011. Paper Series No. 085 / 2012 Series B Human Rights, Democracy; Internet / intellectual property, Globalization, Frankfurt am Main 2012., (accessed: 27.01.2021).