From 1964 to August 2013, a total of 209 cases related to Jehovah’s Witnesses were filed at the European Court of Human Rights. Not only the Witnesses, but all religious minorities have gained from those legal battles for the rights of groups to exist, especially in new member countries of the Council of Europe, said James T. Richardson (University of Nevada) at the CESNUR conference in Waco, Texas.
Moreover, according to Richardson, there seems to have been a “mutually beneficial interaction” between courts and the Witnesses, with Witness cases being used “to expand authority and establish individual rights as well as judicial autonomy.” Richardson describes the Witnesses as possibly “the most litigious of all religious organizations.” It is well-known that the many court cases initiated by the Jehovah’s Witnesses at U.S. courts in the 1930s and 1940s contributed to the progress of freedom of association, freedom of expression and rights to conscientious objection. The Witnesses have won 50 cases at the Supreme Court.
Richardson notes that in the 1950s a similar pattern started in Canada, contributing to the movement toward the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Richardson’s analysis seems to make clear that a similar process has been taking place in Europe, especially since the famous Kokkinakis v. Greece case (1993), in which a violation of Article 9 (religious freedom) of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms was found for the first time.
It marked the start of “a flood of successful Article 9 cases,” said Richardson. Witnesses cases have included a variety of issues. The Witnesses have also been successful at the level of national constitutional courts. Over time, this contributes to diminishing discrepancies across European countries in the way they deal with issues of religious freedom.