E.S. v. Austria: Freedom of Expression versus Religious Feelings, the Sequel

By Stijn Smet, Assistant Professor of Constitutional Law at Hasselt University

In a recent judgment that has made headlines around the world, the ECtHR rules – not for the first time – that Austria can legitimately curb free speech to protect the religious feelings of believers. That the believers in E.S. v. Austria happened to be Muslims surely added to the international attention given to the judgment, especially the opportunistic outrage in certain outlets on the other side of the Atlantic.[1]

When I first read E.S. v. Austria, I was dumbfounded; struck by how contrived and nonsensical some of the ECtHR’s reasoning is. Then, when I read some scholarly comments on the judgment, I was puzzled; struck by how surprised some commentators were about other aspects of the Court’s reasoning. In my reading of E.S. v. Austria, the Court does not say much (or anything at all) it has not said before. Still, it’s remarkable how fervently the Court clings to a line of reasoning many had hoped to see abandoned by now. At the end of this comment, I will venture a guess as to why the Court found no violation of freedom of expression in E.S. v. Austria. Until then, I will explain why I was dumbfounded by the Court’s reasoning and puzzled by some of the commentary thereon. Continue reading