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2007-03-09 - European Court of Human Rights, Spampinato v. Italy, n. 23123/04

State support · Italy · Public funding · Tax system

The Italian funding system for religious groups is not in breach of individual freedom of religion

Key facts of the case - An Italian citizen lodged an application with the European Court of Human Rights, alleging inter alia that Italy’s funding system breached Articles 9 and 14 of the Convention, and Article 1 of the Additional Protocol no. 1 (application no. 23123/04). This case revolved primarily on whether the completion of one’s income tax return implied the obligation to manifest one’s religious beliefs, but it also touched the question of the legitimacy of this funding system.
According to the applicant, this system breached the public authorities’ duty of neutrality in religious matters, which stemmed from the principle of the secular State, and encompassed the prohibition on financing of religious denominations.
The Italian government argued that a State retained the possibility of financing, directly or indirectly, one or more religious organisations, and that the abolition of the ‘0.8% system’ would result in the reduction of a significant source of income for religious institutions.

Main reasoning of the court - In the decision Carlo Spampinato vs. Italy of 29 March 2007, the ECtHR declared the application inadmissible as manifestly ill-founded.
The ECtHR has found no interference caused by the 0.8% funding system with:
- Article 9, because a tax-payer is not forced to reveal his or her religious beliefs, but he or she may choose a religious denomination different from the one he or she belongs to. (Official data do confirm that the religious denominations having an intesa receive approximately twice as much preferences as their numerical size);
- Article 14, because it only prohibits discrimination, but not differences of treatment that are based on neutral and objective grounds. Thus, a State is free to fund some but not all religious denominations;
- Article 1 of the Additional Protocol no. 1, because protection of property is restricted by the State’s right to levy taxes. In this regard, Italy, like all contracting parties, enjoys a wide margin of appreciation in deciding that the funding of religions pursued legitimate aims. The Court only has a subsidiary role in verifying that the financial burden on tax-payers is proportionate, but the 0.8% system does not implies the payment of an additional tax. The amount paid by each tax payer is exactly the same whether or not he or she expresses a preference.

See the decision: 2007-03-09 - European Court of Human Rights, Spampinato v. Italy, n. 23123/04.