Otto-Preminger-Institut v Austria: ECHR 20 Sep 1994

Balance of Religious Tolerance and Freedom

The Institut operated a cinema. It announced a showing of a film ‘Das Liebenconzil’. Proceedings were brought against it, on complaint by the Roman Catholic Church, in which it was accused of ‘disparaging religious doctrine’. The film was seized before it could be shown. The Court found that in the film ‘God the Father is presented both in image and in text as a senile, impotent idiot, Christ as a cretin and Mary Mother of God as a wanton lady with a corresponding manner of expression and in which the Eucharist is ridiculed’ and its showing was a criminal offence under Austrian law.
Held: (Palm, Pekkanen, Makarczyk JJ dissenting) Article 10.2 includes an obligation to avoid as far as possible expressions that are gratuitously offensive to others, and thus an infringement of their rights: ‘Those who choose to exercise the freedom to manifest their religion, irrespective of whether they do so as members of a religious majority or a minority, cannot reasonably expect to be exempt from all criticism. They must tolerate and accept the denial by others of their religious beliefs and even the propagation by others of doctrines hostile to their faith. However, the manner in which religious beliefs and doctrines are opposed or denied is a matter which may engage the responsibility of the State, notably its responsibility to ensure the peaceful enjoyment of the right guaranteed under Article 9 (art. 9) to the holders of those beliefs and doctrines. Indeed, in extreme cases the effect of particular methods of opposing or denying religious beliefs can be such as to inhibit those who hold such beliefs from exercising their freedom to hold and express them.’
‘freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society, one of the basic conditions for its progress and for the development of everyone. Subject to paragraph 2 of Article 10 (art. 10-2), it is applicable not only to ‘information’ or ‘ideas’ that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that shock, offend or disturb the State or any sector of the population. Such are the demands of that pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness without which there is no ‘democratic society’ . . This being so, as a matter of principle it may be considered necessary in certain democratic societies to sanction or even prevent improper attacks on objects of religious veneration, provided always that any ‘formality’, ‘condition’, ‘restriction’ or ‘penalty’ imposed be proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued’

R Ryssdal, P
13470/87, (1994) 19 EHRR 34, [1994] ECHR 26
Worldlii, Bailii
European Convention on Human Rights 9 10
Human Rights
CitedKokkinakis v Greece ECHR 25-May-1993
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Held: To say that Jehovah’s Witness were proselytising criminally was excessive. Punishment for proselytising was unlawful in the . .
CitedHandyside v The United Kingdom ECHR 7-Dec-1976
The appellant had published a ‘Little Red Schoolbook’. He was convicted under the 1959 and 1964 Acts on the basis that the book was obscene, it tending to deprave and corrupt its target audience, children. The book claimed that it was intended to . .

Cited by:
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The claimants sought a declaration that part of the Regulations were invalid, and an infringement of their human rights. The Regulations sought to exempt church schools from an obligation not to discriminate against homosexual teachers.
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CitedGaunt v OFCOM and Liberty QBD 13-Jul-2010
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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, Media

Leading Case

Updated: 01 November 2021; Ref: scu.165328