IEFBE 2475

EHRM: Advertenties verwijzend naar Jezus en Maria niet in strijd met openbare zeden

EHRM 30 januari 2018, IEF 17481; RB 3092; IEFbe 2475; Application no. 69317/14 (Sekmadienis LTD. tegen Litouwen) Mediarecht. Reclame. Uit het persbericht: Kledingbedrijf Sekmadienis Ltd. publiceerde een reeks advertenties op haar website die de Litouwse rechtbanken en andere instanties als beledigend en in strijd met de openbare zeden beschouwden. In de advertenties werden beelden en bijschriften gebruikt die verwezen naar Jezus en Maria. Het Hof constateerde dat, ondanks het feit dat de advertentie een aantal klachten had opgewekt, de advertenties niet onnodig aanstootgevend waren en geen haat zaaiden. Ook hadden de nationale autoriteiten niet voldoende gemotiveerd waarom het gebruik van religieuze symbolen in strijd was met de openbare zeden. De nationale autoriteiten hebben geen goed evenwicht gevonden tussen enerzijds de bescherming van de openbare zeden en de rechten van religieuze personen en anderzijds het recht van Sekmadienis op vrijheid van meningsuiting.

77. Having viewed the advertisements for itself, the Court considers that at the outset they do not appear to be gratuitously offensive or profane, nor do they incite hatred on the grounds of religious belief or attack a religion in an unwarranted or abusive manner (see paragraphs 7-9 above; compare and contrast Müller and Others, cited above, § 36; Otto-Preminger-Institut, cited above, § 56; Wingrove, cited above, § 57; İ.A. v. Turkey, cited above, § 29; Klein, cited above, § 49; and Balsytė-Lideikienė v. Lithuania, no. 72596/01, § 79, 4 November 2008; see also Aydın Tatlav v. Turkey, no. 50692/99, § 28, 2 May 2006). The domestic courts and other authorities which examined the applicant company’s case did not make any explicit findings to the contrary.

80. The Court takes particular issue with the reasoning provided in the decision of the SCRPA, which was subsequently upheld by the domestic courts in its entirety. The SCRPA held that the advertisements “promot[ed] a lifestyle which [was] incompatible with the principles of a religious person” (see paragraph 18 above), without explaining what that lifestyle was and how the advertisements were promoting it, nor why a lifestyle which is “incompatible with the principles of a religious person” would necessarily be incompatible with public morals. The Court observes that even though all the domestic decisions referred to “religious people”, the only religious group which had been consulted in the domestic proceedings had been the Roman Catholic Church (see paragraph 16 above), despite the presence of various other Christian and non-Christian religious communities in Lithuania (see paragraphs 38, 39 and 56 above). In this connection, the Court notes that the Constitutional Court of Lithuania has held that “no views or ideology may be declared mandatory and thrust on an individual” and that the State “does not have any right to establish a mandatory system of views” (see paragraph 45 above). It also draws attention to the position of the United Nations Human Rights Committee that limitations of rights for the purpose of protecting morals must be based on principles not deriving exclusively from a single tradition (see paragraph 48 above).

83. Accordingly, the Court concludes that the domestic authorities failed to strike a fair balance between, on the one hand, the protection of public morals and the rights of religious people, and, on the other hand, the applicant company’s right to freedom of expression. The wording of their decisions – such as “in this case the game has gone too far” (see paragraph 11 above), “the basic respect for spirituality is disappearing” (see paragraph 15 above), “inappropriate use [of religious symbols] demeans them [and] is contrary to universally accepted moral and ethical norms” (see paragraph 25 above) and “religious people react very sensitively to any use of religious symbols or religious persons in advertising” (see paragraphs 11, 13, 15 and 18 above) – demonstrate that the authorities gave absolute primacy to protecting the feelings of religious people, without adequately taking into account the applicant company’s right to freedom of expression.