Freedom of religion vs association: Romanian archdiocese opposes unionization of its clerics

In Romania, government authorities have appealed a decision of the European court of human rights to grant union status to clerics and remunerated members of the Romanian Orthodox church. The final part was concluded on Wednesday November 7th, with a hearing by the Grand Chamber, the final appellate stage, according to the European convention for human rights, for cases before the human rights court.

In the case, Sindicatul ‘Pastorul cel Bun’ v. Romania, the court held in its most recent judgement, that article 11 of the convention was breached when ‘Pastoral cel Bun‘ or ‘The Good Shepherd’ was denied union status by the church. The union was established on April 4 2008 after applying for union status to a court of first instance in accordance with Romania’s Trade Unions Act. The union entered Romania’s register of trade unions on May 22nd 2008 after a court of first instance ordered recognition after the Archdiocese filed and argued its opposition.

Following its unsuccessful bid to deny the union status, the Archdiocese appealed the order, citing the religious freedom act in Romania. The act guarantees the independent operation of religious organizations. Since the unionization of clerics and members violated internal regulations, the church felt it was within its rights to deny such action. By also invoking religious freedom, as guaranteed by article 29 of Romania’s constitution, the church successfully appealed the decision of the court of first instance, to register the union, in a Romanian county court in July of 2008. In the appeal, the county court sided with the church and its right to deny union status among members in accordance with internal regulations.

Following the county court loss, the union appealed to the European court of human rights in December 2008. After a long three year process that included government intervention by Romanian authorities, the court decided in January 2012 that the denial of union status was a violation of the convention. Last Wednesday’s hearing was the result of a successful bid by the Archdiocese as intervener and the Romanian authorities as appellant to convince a panel of five judges to grant permission to appeal to the Grand Chamber (essentially a full panel of the court’s members). This week’s appeal to the Grand Chamber could be seen live on the court’s website. A decision will be released at an unspecified date, following deliberation.  This decision will be the final judgement on the union’s long road to recognition.