Bishop challenges plans for Athens mosque in court

Only a few days after the government issued a tender for the construction of a state-sponsored mosque south of central Athens, the Council of State on Friday heard an appeal against the project by Bishop Seraphim of Piraeus.

Seraphim, who has in the past raised controversy by voicing anti-Semitic remarks, claimed that the plans violate Article 13 of the Constitution, which stipulates freedom of religious conscience. He said the construction of a mosque should be preceded by an impact study on ethics and public order.

Moreover, the bishop told the court, the plans are in breach of the constitutional principle of equality, as religious minorities wishing to erect a place of worship in Greece have so far had to apply for a building permit from the authorities.

The appeal is backed by a philosophy professor at the University of Athens, two doctors at the Athens Naval Hospital, a cultural association in Votanikos, where the mosque is set to be built, and five residents.

The defense said that the absence of a functioning mosque means the city’s Muslims have had to resort to makeshift mosques – often located in basements and other unsuitable premises.

Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis also defended the plans to Kathimerini. “It goes without saying, every resident of this city ought to have a place for worship,” he said. “There is no room for prejudice. It’s a question of common sense, of respecting constitutional order and of complying with our conventional obligations,” he added.

The 750-capacity mosque in a converted naval base garage has been budgeted at 846,000 euros. The cost will be covered by the Education Ministry.

It was not clear when the court will issue a ruling on the appeal.