European court tells Turkey to end compulsory religion courses

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ruled that Turkey’s compulsory religion course violates the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) article regarding the right to education, and urged Turkey to switch to a new system in which students would not be required to take such a class.

The ECtHR announced its verdict on Tuesday regarding an appeal filed in Ankara in 2011 by 14 Turkish citizens who are members of the Alevi faith regarding the compulsory Culture of Religion and Knowledge of Morality course given at Turkish schools. Stating that recent changes made to the class’ course books are not enough to keep the class from violating the ECHR, the court reminded the Turkish state of its “obligation to be neutral and impartial” regarding religious issues.

The court said that arrangements should be made as soon as possible so that students will no longer have to take the class and that such a course should be offered as an elective.

The court found that Turkey has violated Article 2 of the ECHR in the case of Mansur Yalçın and Others v. Turkey. It said, “The Court observed in particular that in the field of religious instruction, the Turkish education system was still inadequately equipped to ensure respect for parents’ convictions.” It further noted that as per an earlier decision of the court on another, related case, Turkey must remedy the situation without delay.

The court judgment noted that although Turkey had introduced some changes to the structure of religion courses, including the inclusion of information about the Alevi faith, “aspects of the curriculum had not really been overhauled since it predominantly focused on knowledge of Islam as practised and interpreted by the majority of the Turkish population.”

The court said an exemption procedure should be put in place, as the applicants’ belief that the approach adopted in the religion classes is likely to cause their children to face a “conflict of allegiance” between their values and those taught in school. It noted, “The discrepancies complained of by the applicants between the approach adopted in the curriculum and the particular features of their faith as compared with the Sunni understanding of Islam were so great that they would scarcely be alleviated by the mere inclusion in textbooks of information about Alevi beliefs and practice.” It also noted that Christian and Jewish pupils already have the possibility to be exempted from religion classes, and added that almost all EU states offer an exemption method out of religious studies classes.

About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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