Dahlab v Switzerland: ECHR 15 Feb 2001

(Commission) A primary school teacher had been prohibited from wearing an Islamic headscarf at her school.
Held: The complaint was inadmissible. The court acknowledged the margin of appreciation afforded to the national authorities when determining whether this measure was ‘necessary in a democratic society’, and explained its role: ‘The Court’s task is to determine whether the measures taken at national level were justified in principle – that is, whether the reasons adduced to justify them appear ‘relevant and sufficient’ and are proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued . . In order to rule on this latter point, the Court must weigh the requirements of the protection of the rights and liberties of others against the conduct of which the applicant stood accused. In exercising the supervisory jurisdiction, the court must look at the impugned judicial decisions against the background of the case as a whole.’ The need to protect the principle of denominational neutrality in Swiss schools was an important factor which militated successfully against the applicant’s case.
‘freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as enshrined by Article 9 of the Convention, represents one of the foundations of a ‘democratic society’ within the meaning of the Convention. In its religious dimension, it is one of the most vital elements that go to make up the identity of believers and their conception of life, but it is also a precious asset for atheists, agnostics, sceptics and the unconcerned. The pluralism indissociable from a democratic society, which has been dearly won over the centuries, depends on it. While religious freedom is primarily a matter of individual conscience, it also implies freedom to manifest one’s religion. Bearing witness in words and deeds is bound up with the existence of religious convictions.’


42393/98, ECHR 2001-V




European Convention on Human Rights 9

Cited by:

CitedSB, Regina (on the Application of) v Denbigh High School CA 2-Mar-2005
The applicant, a Muslim girl sought to be allowed to wear the gilbab to school. The school policy which had been approved by Muslim clerics prohibited this, saying the shalwar kameeze and headscarf were sufficient. The school said she was making a . .
CitedEweida And Others v The United Kingdom ECHR 15-Jan-2013
The named claimant had been employed by British Airways. She was a committed Christian and wished to wear a small crucifix on a chain around her neck. This breached the then dress code and she was dismissed. Her appeals had failed. Other claimants . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Human Rights

Updated: 30 April 2022; Ref: scu.223117