Religious education of a child by parent who is Jehovah’s Witnesses

In the case of T.C. v. Italy (application no. 54032/18, 19.05.2022) the European Court of Human Rights held, by a majority, that there had been: no violation of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights in conjunction with Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the Convention, read in the light of Article 9 (freedom of religion).

The case concerned a dispute between the applicant and the mother of his daughter from a previous relationship over their child’s religious upbringing. The applicant had become a Jehovah’s Witness after the split in the relationship. Following proceedings brought by the mother in the courts, the applicant was ordered to refrain from actively involving his daughter in his religion. The court, basing its ruling on an expert report, and primarily focussing on the child’s best interests, found that the applicant’s intensive efforts to involve his daughter in his religious activities was destabilising and stressful for her. It also had regard to the fact that the applicant had tried to hide his daughter’s participation in the religion from her mother.

The Court found that there had been no difference in treatment between the applicant and the mother based on religion in the decisions leading to that court order. The decisions had solely aimed at resolving the conflict, focussing above all on the child’s interest in growing up in an open and peaceful environment, while reconciling as far as possible the rights and convictions of both parents.

The Court considered that the applicant’s complaints should be examined under Article 14 in conjunction with Article 8 of the Convention, as interpreted and applied in the light of Article 9 of the Convention. It rejected the remainder of his complaints as inadmissible. First and foremost, the Court found that the court order had been aimed at resolving the conflict which had arisen because of the parents’ diverging views on how to educate their daughter. The decisions leading to the court order had attempted to reconcile the rights of each party, focussing above all on the child’s interest in growing up in an open and peaceful environment. Indeed, the sole purpose of the order had been to preserve the child’s freedom of choice, taking into account her father’s educational views.

In any event, the order had not banned the applicant from using the educational principles he had chosen in relation to his daughter or prevented him from taking part in Jehovah’s Witness activities in a personal capacity. Nor had his custody or visiting rights been restricted. The Court therefore considered that there had been no difference in treatment between the applicant and the mother based on religion in the domestic court decisions with regard to the dispute and there had been no violation of Article 14 taken in conjunction with Article 8, read in the light of Article 9.

Reference from the official website of the European Court of Human Rights