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Freedom of religion

In the absence of a written constitution there can be no formal constitutional guarantees of religious freedom. However, the UK was one of the first signatories of the European Convention on Human Rights, and effect was eventually given to that Convention as part of the domestic law of England by the Human Rights Act 1998. The effect of the 1998 Act was that the freedoms guaranteed by the Convention, including the freedom of thought, conscience and religion in Article 9, can be relied upon in the English courts. The courts are empowered to make ‘declarations of incompatibility’, i.e. they can rule that a provision in primary legislation is incompatible with the Convention.

There is little doubt that even before the European Convention, there was a recognised right to religious freedom. One encyclopaedic work on English law asserts as follows:
"The civil power, while exercising complete control over all estates and degrees, whether ecclesiastical or temporal, and affording all necessary protection from wrongful acts, refrains from exercising any purely spiritual functions, and, save insofar as positive law may otherwise provide recognises and has always recognised the right of all to follow the dictates of their consciences in the religious opinion they hold." (Halsbury’s Laws of England, vol. 14, para. 339)

D 11 September 2012    ADavid McClean

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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