By Daniel Stroe – Bucharest
Romania’s Constitutional Court yesterday ruled as unconstitutional two articles in the law on education which so far required that a student of age or a parent of a minor student have to file a written application if they want to skip religion classes.
The court’s ruling says that, on the contrary, those who wish to attend religion classes have to file such an application and not the other way around. In practice, the new ruling takes the religious studies out of the mandatory sphere.
The court’s decision envisages article 9 in the law on education which says that “upon the written application of parents or the legal tutor, the student can no longer attend religion classes. In this case, the school record can be closed without this subject” and article 18 according to which “upon written application of a major student (…) the student can no longer attend religion classes”.
The case was brought before the Constitutional Court by a teacher in Buzau, a city in south-east Romania,, who sued the high-school where his daughter was studying. Years ago, the same teacher called on the National Anti-Discrimination Council to act to end the „discrimination situation created by the obstinate presence of the religious symbols in schools”.
Teaching religion in the public education system „is a discrimination against agnostic persons or having another religious confession than the one the religious symbols belong to and an encroachment on the fundamental right to equality of chances because by accepting religious symbols the public schools also assume conveying women’s inferior values the respective religion practices”.
The council decided religion study in schools encroaches upon the right to freedom of conscience and called on legal amendments which shall give students the right to choose. The religious studies have sparked controversy over the past years and parents complained their children, even if they refused to attend such classes, have to stay in the classrooms because schools deliberately include such classes in the middle of the daily schedule and teachers do not take the responsibility to let these students leave.
The Secular Humanist Association, an organization which promotes secularism, hailed the decision of Romania’s Constitutional Court which it says it has been waiting for years. The NGO has been since 2011 involved in a campaign against religious discrimination in schools, reminding school masters they break the law by forcing unwilling students to attend religious classes.
Reacting to the court’s ruling, the Romanian Patriarchy said it regretted a “discriminating and humiliating decision”, but said it kept further comments for after the court published the motivation. It further says that the decision discourages students from attending religious classes, pointing out that, in other European countries, where religion classes are mandatory, pupils can apply to not attend them, such as the law has stipulated so far in Romania. The Church, while observing the court’s decision, will not be intimidated by it and will pay even greater attention to promoting Christian values in the Romanian society “under constant aggression from the anti-religious secularism, it highlighted.