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Journal Article

Claiming Religious Freedom at the European Court of Human Rights: Socio-Legal Field Effects on Legal Mobilization


Harms,  Lisa
Fellow Group Governance of Cultural Diversity, MPI for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Max Planck Society;

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Harms, L. (2021). Claiming Religious Freedom at the European Court of Human Rights: Socio-Legal Field Effects on Legal Mobilization. Law and Social Inquiry, 46(4), 1206-1235. doi:10.1017/lsi.2021.33.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000A-B09A-1
How do legal strategies at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) vary among activists in highly asymmetrical social positions? Social scientists have demonstrated that legal mobilization raises the pressure on states to provide broader minority accommodation. While this may be true, such outcome-oriented studies overlook the fact that judicial mobilization is itself deeply imbued with inequalities and divergent interests among diverse activists. We lack comparative studies to examine how such differences play out in litigation. Drawing on a qualitative in-depth study among Sikh, Muslim, Catholic, Evangelical, and secular advocacy groups involved in religious freedom disputes at the ECtHR, this article argues that claims making often is a balancing act between legal power relations and extra-legal commitments, which leads to variation in activists’ leverage to challenge legal marginalization. First, hostile legal environments discourage more easily activists with weaker transnational connections who are in vulnerable domestic positions. Second, while the most marginalized readily seek to fit identity narratives into dominant legal frames of religion, more powerful actors can target the core of legal principles and power distribution within the legal field as such. Even when unsuccessful in judicial outcomes, they might affect broader political and legal debates.