H. ; B. v. THE UNITED KINGDOM

The European Commission of Human Rights sitting in private on 18 July 1986, the following members being present:

MM. J.A. FROWEIN, Acting President
C.A. NØRGAARD
F. ERMACORA
G. TENEKIDES
S. TRECHSEL
B. KIERNAN
A. WEITZEL
J.C. SOYER
H.G. SCHERMERS
H. DANELIUS
G. BATLINER
H. VANDENBERGHE
Sir Basil HALL

Mr. H.C. KRÜGER, Secretary to the Commission

Having regard to Art. 25 (art. 25) of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms;

Having regard to the application introduced on 27 November 1985 by B.H. and M.B. against the United Kingdom and registered on 18 February 1986 under file No. 11991/86;

Having regard to the report provided for in Rule 40 of the Rules of Procedure of the Commission;

Having deliberated;

Decides as follows:

THE FACTS

The first applicant Miss Beryl Daphne Hibbs is a British citizen born in 1933 and is resident in Cambria. She is the clerk of the management committee of the Meeting for Sufferings of the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as the Quakers. The second applicant Mrs. Maisie Birmingham, a British citizen born in 1914 and residing in Dorset, is also a member of the management committee of the Society. She is the former Assistant Clerk. The applicants present their complaints on behalf of the society as a whole and in particular on behalf of the employees of the society. The applicants are represented by Waterhouse and Co, solicitors. The facts as submitted on behalf of the applicants may be summarised as follows:

It is a fundamental principle of the religious beliefs of the members of the Society that war and the taking of steps preparatory to war is contrary to the teachings of Christ and therefore prohibited.

The Society employs staff to carry out its religious purposes at Friends House, Enston Road, London NW1. Under English law the Society is required to deduct from its employees' salaries income tax due to the Inland Revenue.

The applicants, however, on behalf of the Society and in compliance with their religious beliefs withheld from the Inland Revenue that proportion of the income tax (estimated at 12%) which would be spent by the Government on military preparations unless and until the Inland Revenue agreed to pay those sums into a fund which would not be used for military purposes.

The amount deducted from the tax due (12%) was placed in a special account pending advice or assistance from the respondent Government on how the sums could be paid to the Inland Revenue without breaching the applicants' religious beliefs.

The Inland Revenue brought an action against the applicants in the Mayors and City of London County Court for payment of the 12% of the income tax withheld. The applicants entered a defence relying on the freedom of conscience of the employees of the Society who had instructed the applicants, as their agents, to act in the above manner.

On 22 January 1985 the County Court Judge upheld the Inland Revenue's claim against the applicants considering that the applicants were under a statutory duty to make the payments, that the law of agency did not arise and that the applicants had not disclosed any defence to the plaintif's claim.

An appeal by the applicants was dismissed by the Court of Appeal on 4 June 1985 and on 17 July 1985 the Appeal Committee of the House of Lords dismissed a petition by the applicants seeking leave to appeal as being unfit for an oral hearing.

COMPLAINTS

The applicants claim to be victims of a breach by the Government of Article 9 (art. 9) of the Convention.

In particular the applicants claim that the legal obligation on them to pay over to the Inland Revenue income tax which they know will be used for military purposes

a) limits or restricts or interferes with their right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion under Article 9 para. 1 (art. 9-1) of the Convention and
b) is not necessary in a democratic society for any of the reasons stated in Article 9 para. 2 (art. 9-2) of the Convention.

The applicants submit that they are aware that the Commission has already rejected as inadmissible a very similar application, C. v. the United Kingdom, Application No. 10358/83, on the ground that the obligation to contribute through taxation to arms procurement does not constitute an interference with an applicant's rights guaranteed by Article 9 para. 1 (art. 9-1).

However, the applicants submit that the Commission should revise its approach. They argue as follows:

Article 9 para. 1 (art. 9-1) recognises that the right to freedom of religion is a fundamental right and covers the freedom to "manifest" one's religion or belief in "practice and observance". But because no society could allow people to do whatever was required by their religious beliefs, the State is allowed to interfere when the criteria listed under Article 9 para. 2 (art. 9-2) are fulfilled.

In the circumstances of this case, the State is requiring the applicants to do something which conflicts with one of the most central tenets of their faith and belief. The fact that the context is taxation, or any other general legislation, does not reduce or affect the nature of that conflict with their religious beliefs and practices. It should therefore fall on the Government under Article 9 para. 2 (art. 9-2) to show that the interference with their religious beliefs is justified; otherwise the object and purpose of Article 9 (art. 9) - i.e. to prevent state interference with religious beliefs and practices unless Article 9 para. 2 (art. 9-2) is satisfied - would be frustrated .

The applicants argue that here there is no "pressing social need" to interfere with the religious principles of the applicants who would be happy to pay taxes in full if the Inland Revenue would place such funds into an account used for non-militaristic purposes. No reason has yet been given for this refusal other than administrative convenience, which is not sufficient for the purposes of Article 9 para. 2 (art. 9-2).

THE LAW

The applicants invoke Article 9 (art. 9) of the Convention in relation to their complaint that they should not be obliged to pay a portion of their taxes without an assurance that they will not be applied for military or related expenditure. Article 9 (art. 9) provides:

"1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

2. Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health of morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others."

The applicants who are Quakers contend that to compel them to contribute to expenditure for armaments, rather than peaceful purposes, is an interference with their religious beliefs. It is a fundamental principle of the religious beliefs of members of the Society that the waging of war, or the taking of steps to prepare to wage war, is contrary to the spirit of the teachings of Jesus Christ and is therefore prohibited. It is therefore their contention that it is central to the Quaker beliefs of the applicants and the employees of the Society in practice and observance that the income taxes collected by the Society on behalf of the Inland Revenue should not be used for war preparations but should be diverted to different peaceful purposes.

The Commission recalls that it has previously recognised pacifism as falling within the ambit of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Arrowsmith v. the United Kingdom, Application No. 7050/75 Comm. Rep. 12.10.78, DR 19 p. 5). However, the Commission at the same time has held that the term "practice" in Article 9 para. 1 (art. 9-1) does not cover each act which is motivated or influenced by a religion or a belief.

The question of whether the obligation to contribute taxes to a general fund from which armaments are paid for rather than a fund for peaceful purposes may constitute a violation of Article 9 para. 1 (art. 9-1) has already been considered in two previous cases: see Ross v. the United Kingdom, Application No. 10295/83, Dec. 14.10.83 and C. v. the United Kingdom, Application No. 10358/83, Dec. 15.12.83.

In these decisions, the Commission has held:

Article 9 (art. 9) primarily protects the sphere of personal beliefs and religious creeds, i.e. the area which is sometimes called the forum internum. In addition, it protects acts which are intimately linked to these attitudes, such as acts of worship or devotion which are aspects of the practice of a religion or belief in a generally recognised form.

However, in protecting this personal sphere, Article 9 (art. 9) of the Convention does not always guarantee the right to behave in the public sphere in a way which is dictated by such a belief: for instance by refusing to pay certain taxes because part of the revenue so raised may be applied for military expenditure....

The obligation to pay taxes is a general one which has no specific conscientious implications in itself. Its neutrality in this sense is also illustrated by the fact that no tax payer can influence or determine the purpose for which his or her contributions are applied, once they are collected. Furthermore, the power of taxation is expressly recognised by the Convention system and is ascribed to the State by Article 1, First Protocol.

The Commission has examined carefully the arguments submitted by the applicants but is unable to find any factor to distinguish this application from those cited above or to lead it to depart from its previous reasoning. The Commission finds therefore that there has been no interference with the applicants' rights guaranteed by Article 9 para. 1 (art. 9-1) of the Convention. It follows that the complaint is manifestly ill-founded within the meaning of Article 27 para. 2 (art. 27-2) of the Convention.

For these reasons, the Commission

DECLARES THE APPLICATION INADMISSIBLE.

Secretary to the Commission Acting President of the Commission
(H.C. KRÜGER) (J.A. FROWEIN)