The Administrative Court in Armenia has upheld the right to freedom of religion in what advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International has called a precedent-setting case.
The case centred on a decorated police officer, Edgar Karapetyan, who was dismissed from his position as a senior lieutenant in the police force in late 2018 for being a member of a religious group.
His employers had fired him because of his membership of an evangelical church. He had been told he could keep his job if he renounced his faith; he refused and was dismissed.
Mr Karapetyan filed his case at the Administrative Court. His lawyers questioned the constitutionality of the rule allowing for his dismissal.
Armenia’s Constitutional Court ruled that an absolute ban on membership of a religious organisation for police officers was unconstitutional.
The Administrative Court therefore found the dismissal to be invalid and ruled that the police officer must be reinstated to his job and compensated for the entire period of his forced leave starting in 2018.
According to Lidia Rieder, legal officer for ADF International, which supported Mr Karapetyan, this ruling could have a ‘significant impact on the religious freedom of public servants across the country’.
She said, ‘Nobody should be forced to choose between their profession and their faith. This decision is a positive step in the right direction to protect the right of public servants in Armenia to hold a religious belief.
‘Dismissing someone from their job simply because of what they believe is a violation of their fundamental rights.’
She warned the kind of blanket ban challenged in this case ‘forces faith underground’ and sends the message that ‘people of faith should be the subject of suspicion when, so often, it is faith that drives individuals to incredible acts of service’.
She added, ‘The precedent set in this decision secures freedom of religion for police officers and could have an impact on public servants all over Armenia.’