Key facts of the case:
The Representative of the Portuguese Republic for the Autonomous Region of Madeira (ARM) petitioned the Constitutional Court for pre-emptive declaration as to the unconstitutional organic and material nature of an article in a regional legislative decree that sought to make it compulsory for school children to attend a subject teaching moral and religious education except in cases where the person responsible for the child’s education expressly gives permission to the contrary. On the one hand, the petitioner’s argument was based on the fact that the Regional Government’s intention to pass laws on matters to do with rights, freedoms and guarantees, infringed upon the right of the Assembly of the Republic (Parliament) to legislate on this matter (Articles 165 (1) b) in the Portuguese Constitution) ; on the other hand, it was also based on the fact that the contents of the article breached Constitution Articles 41 (Freedom of conscience, religion and worship) and 43 (Freedom to learn and teach) when both are read in conformity with the provision in Article 26 (3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). In the opinion of the petitioner, where the rule is concerned, the same reasons explaining the unconstitutional nature of another similar rule which the Constitutional Court had already analysed are applicable here with general mandatory force. The Court stated that “a rule that demands those who have no wish to receive [Roman] Catholic religious and moral education should expressly decline it [which] therefore gives rise to the same problems as a rule that demands those who have no wish to receive any kind of religious and moral education should expressly decline it”.
Religious freedom finds enormous support in international human rights law, where it is evident there through numerous positive achievements. As may be read in Judgment No. 544/2014” (available at: www.tribunalconstitucional.pt): “(…) Apart from being enshrined in the Constitution, religious freedom is not without the express protection of the international, universal and regional legal system as a Human right, and the European Union legal system in its respective catalogue of fundamental rights - the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (CFREU) – which today, benefits from the binding force of European Union founding law (article 6(1) in the Treaty of the European Union). This freedom is amply enshrined ‘in international human rights law, where it is evident there through numerous positive achievements’”.
A liberdade religiosa encontra enorme amparo no direito internacional dos direitos do homem, manifestando-se aí através de inúmeras concretizações positivas. Como se lê no acórdão n.º 544/2014” (disponível: www.tribunalconstitucional.pt). (…) Para além da sua consagração constitucional, a liberdade de religião não deixa de ter expressivo acolhimento no ordenamento jurídico internacional, universal e regional, enquanto direito do Homem, e no ordenamento jurídico da União Europeia no respectivo catálogo de direitos fundamentais – a Carta dos Direitos Fundamentais da União Europeia (CDFUE) –, hoje beneficiando da força vinculativa do direito originário da União Europeia (artigo 6.º/1 do Tratado da União Europeia). Esta liberdade encontra-se amplamente consagrada ‘no direito internacional dos direitos do homem, manifestando-se aí através de inúmeras concretizações positivas’.