The following text is taken by permission from Frank Cranmer’s “Notes on Church and State . . .” – see this introductory note.
The overwhelming majority of Greeks are Orthodox Christians, and it is probably for that reason as much as any residual caesaro-papalism that the Constitution (which begins “In the name of the Holy and Consubstantial and Indivisible Trinity”) gives special recognition to the Orthodox Church of Greece. Article 3 (Relations of Church and State) is worth quoting in full:
(1) The prevailing religion in Greece is that of the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ. The Orthodox Church of Greece, acknowledging our Lord Jesus Christ as its head, is inseparably united in doctrine with the Great Church of Christ in Constantinople and with every other Church of Christ of the same doctrine, observing unwaveringly, as they do, the holy apostolic and synodal canons and sacred traditions. It is autocephalous and is administered by the Holy Synod of serving Bishops and the Permanent Holy Synod originating thereof and assembled as specified by the Statutory Charter of the Church in compliance with the provisions of the Patriarchal Tome of June 29, 1850 and the Synodal Act of September 4, 1928.
(2) The ecclesiastical regime existing in certain districts of the State shall not be deemed contrary to the provisions of the preceding paragraph.
(3) The text of the Holy Scripture shall be maintained unaltered. Official translation of the text into any other form of language, without prior sanction by the Autocephalous Church of Greece and the Great Church of Christ in Constantinople, is prohibited.
Moreover, the effect of Article 33 (2) (Election of the President) is to make it virtually impossible for a conscientious non-Christian to assume the office of President:
(2) Before assuming the exercise of his duties, the President of the Republic shall take the following oath before Parliament:
“I do swear in the name of the Holy and consubstantial and Indivisible Trinity to safeguard the Constitution and the laws, to care for the faithful observance thereof, to defend the national independence and territorial integrity of the Country, to protect the rights and liberties of the Greeks and to serve the general interest and the progress of the Greek People”.
The Orthodox Christian faith is therefore the official religion of the Republic, the Orthodox Church has its own legal status with legal personality under public law and the State gives the Church a degree of special consideration that is not extended to other denominations or faiths. (Papastathis 2005: 117).
The Government pays for the salaries, pensions and religious training of Orthodox clergy, finances the maintenance of Orthodox religious buildings and gives special recognition to Orthodox canon law.
Though Article 13(2) of the Constitution provides for freedom of religion, it also stipulates that worship must not disturb public order or offend moral principles and prohibits proselytising. That prohibition was the subject of litigation before the European Court of Human Rights in Kokkinakis v Greece  ECtHR 20 (No. 14307/88) (25 May 1993), which held that the sentence passed on a Jehovah‘s Witness for engaging in religious discussion with the wife of the cantor of the local Orthodox Church was contrary to Article 9 ECHR, since the right to try to persuade one‘s neighbour as to religious belief was part of the general right to manifest. In Larissis & Ors v Greece  ECtHR (Nos. 23372/94, 26377/94 & 26378/94) (24 February 1998), the convictions of three Pentecostal Air Force officers for proselytising servicemen were held not to have violated Article 9 ECHR but the measures taken in relation to them proselytising civilians were held to be unjustified and in breach of Article 9.
The Orthodox Church, Judaism, and Islam are the only groups that have legal personality in public law. Other religious groups have legal personality only in private law and cannot own property as religious entities; instead, they must create specific legal entities to hold property on their behalf. On the other hand, the laws that provide property-tax exemptions for religious organisations apply equally to Orthodox and non-Orthodox Churches and monasteries. (Papastathis 2005: 118). Roman Catholic churches and related religious bodies established prior to 1946 are legally recognised as private entities; but Roman Catholic institutions built since 1946 are not extended the same recognition. The Church has been seeking Government recognition of its canon law since 1999, but without success. Moreover,‗non-Orthodox religious groups claimed that taxes on their organizations were discriminatory because the government subsidizes Orthodox Church activities and Orthodox religious instruction in public schools and provides a preferential tax rate for income received from Orthodox Church-owned properties‘. (IRFR 2010: Greece).
The position of the Turkish-speaking Muslim minority in Thrace is protected under the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923. Muslims in Thrace have the right to maintain social and charitable organisations and limited recognition is given to Islamic family law. The Government also pays the salaries of the three official Muslim religious leaders. Muslims resident outside Thrace are not covered by the terms of the Treaty. In 2006 the European Court of Human Rights held that an attempt by the Government to interfere in the appointment of the Mufti of Xanthi had violated Article 9 § 2 ECHR: Agga v Greece (Nos. 3)  ECtHR (Nos. 32186/02 (13 July 2006) & (No. 4)  ECtHR 33331/02 (13 July 2006). For an earlier case on rather similar facts, see Serif v Greece  ECtHR (No. 38178/97) (14 December 1999).
The issue of freedom of religion and human rights for the Muslim minority in Thrace (and for non-Muslim minorities in Turkey) was the subject of Recommendation 1704 adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 27 January 2010. Paragraph 18 called on the Greek Government to implement a series of measures: on religious matters specifically, these included the full implementation of Law No. 3647 of February 2008 on the legal status of vafks(Muslim foundations), allowing Muslims freely to choose their muftis as religious leaders without judicial powers, full implementation of the judgments of the ECtHR on freedom of religion and of association, and permitting associations to use the adjective “Turkish” in their titles if they so wish.
There have also been disputes over the property of non-Orthodox churches: see Canea Catholic Church v Greece  ECtHR 100 (No. 25528/94) (16 December 1997), affirming the legal personality of the Roman Catholic Church contrary to a ruling of the Court of Cassation – which, if not set aside, would have prevented the Church from taking legal action to protect its land and buildings.
Finally, there have been successful challenges in the ECtHR against the caesaro-papalist tendencies of Greek civil law: see Dimitras & Ors v Greece  ECtHR (Nos. 42837/06, 3269/07, 35793/07 and 6099/08) (3 June 2010) and Alexandridis v Greece  ECtHR (No. 19516/06), in both of which the obligation to reveal one‘s religious convictions in order to make an affirmation rather than taking the oath on the Bible in court was held to violate Article 9 ECHR (thought, conscience and religion).
-  Paragraph 18 also included a long list of recommendations for action by the Turkish Government – but that is outside the scope of the present discussion. ↩
-  Note by EHF: this is Panayote Dimitras who spoke to our conference in Athens in 2008 and founded the Humanist Union of Greece. ↩
This content last updated 30 October 2011 @ 12:34 pm