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Religious beliefs on national ID cards: a parochial requirement?

National ID cards are considered public documents that confirm the personal identifying details of citizens, as their purpose is to reduce fraud and ease transactions. The information on such documents as national ID cards or driving licences can be viewed and processed by federal authorities and receives the highest degree of protection under data protection laws. Facets of the debate: whether the disclosure of one's religious beliefs on national ID cards is a parochial requirement; exist in various states, but in this blog post, I am discussing Greece as the main case study [1].

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Under Article 13(1) of the Greek Constitution, the right to religion means that one has the right to believe in any religion that resonates with them. The right to privacy is protected under Article 9 (1) and provides that one has the right to disclose their religion upon their free will. Article 4(1) of the Greek Constitution bans discriminatory behaviour and includes discrimination based on religion. These are, of course, widely accepted protections that connect to long-established international human rights laws. Characteristic examples include Article 14 European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) and Article 2 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

In Greece, however, where the state and the church have a longstanding and somewhat troublesome relationship, Article 3 of the Constitution frameworks the state-church relations and refers to ‘religious equality.’ I am exploring how this affects the debate around the disclosure of religion in documents like national IDs.

Religious freedom under the Greek Constitution mirrors international human rights laws. It expresses the ‘positive’ definition[2] of forming a religious identity: to choose a religion without undue influence or the exercise of violence (mental or physical) and express that religion freely, without facing repercussions. The right to religion is also ‘negatively’ defined under the Greek Constitution. It includes the right to no religion, including the right to keep private – omit from publicly expressing - any religious belief.[3] This definition surpasses the territorial boundaries of states: it is an established international human right and sets a minimum standard based on Articles 9 ECHR and 18 of the UDHR.

The emerging question is whether a mandatory disclosure of one’s religion in a document such as the national identification card is breaching their right to religion. Religion is a belief deeply connected to the person’s philosophical, moral, and other values. It is not in any way a critical personally identifying information that has any legal effect.[4] For instance, disclosure of age might result in a prohibition to buy certain goods.

However, a ‘difference’ in religion has no legal effect, and it is deemed redundant to disclose it in documents such as national ID cards. In any case, religious beliefs belong within the sphere of the person’s private life, internationally protected under Articles 8 ECHR and 12 UDHR. This classification is not consequential; history has proved that religious radicalisation often leads to crimes and genocides. Considering the dire consequences conflict based on religion has had and the ever-lasting discrimination it causes in society, the mandatory disclosure of one’s religion conflicts with the right to live freely, away from discrimination.

The disclosure of these characteristics must only be made possible per the free will and discretion of the individual in question. For example, the Law confers benefits towards one’s person for this purpose, within the sphere of self-development as stated in Article 5(1) of the Greek Constitution. This could be justified based on the right to privacy and human dignity per the relevant Articles, which aim to protect an individual’s personality.

Regulation No.2472/1997 states that handling this information should be made through the scope of the principle of relativity, concerning the desired goal. It should be noted that there is an essential distinction between personal and sensitive information - a distinction that is pivotal to avoid abuses that might, in turn, cause infringements. The processing of sensitive information must only occur where such an act is deemed necessary and must not go beyond the purposes for which the information is collected. It is suggested that for such processing, permission should be first sought by, i.e., in Greece, the Hellenic Data Protection Authority, along with the written consent of the individual in question.

However, a few questions should be addressed when examining the disclosure of one’s religion on national IDs. One crucial aspect is that the consciousness of an individual and their opinions do not constitute a statement that can easily be checked and verified. This means that such sensitive personal information does not need to be part of national ID cards because such information cannot be verified. At the same time, it does not serve the purpose of the document’s issuing.

Another element to examine is whether the identification of a person is dependent upon the disclosure of this information. In other words, whether the handling of this data aids the aim of the identification. It has not yet been established whether the Hellenic Data Protection Authority could provide a relevant license for such use, the use of which would be optional per the subsequent written consent of an individual. It is essential to stress that this largely depends on whether one wishes to disclose their religion or not in the first place. Still, in this case, it does not seem likely that one’s beliefs constitute information that must be checked and verified.

Another issue is whether Regulation No.2472/1997 has already made redundant the inclusion of one’s religion on their national ID card because it is sensitive personal data, or if the earlier Regulation No.1988/1991 should apply, which proposes that the mention should be considered as mandatory. In this regard, Greek Law provides that the newest Law overrules the earlier form that it is easily deductible that Regulation No.2472/97 is the Law in force.

In conclusion, the mention of one’s religion on a national ID card should not be acceptable. This is the case because religion is not necessary when verifying one’s identity, nor does it lead to the prevention of identity fraud since it is information that cannot be easily proven.


[1] Decision of ΣτΕ 2188/2010 [2] K. Chrysogonos, Personal and Social Rights (p.219,2017, Law Library) [3] A. MANESIS, Constitutional Rights, Part A, p. 219 [4] A. MANESIS, CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS PART A, Personal Freedoms, p. 11

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