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RIGHTS > Buddhism might be elective course

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News

While insisting on the continuation of compulsory courses on ‘religious culture and ethical knowledge,’ the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) supports elective religion courses for non-Muslims, including Buddhists

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Ruling AKP proposes introducing elective religion courses for non-Muslim children as part of upcoming debates on ‘freedom of religion and conscience’ article. AA photo

Ruling AKP proposes introducing elective religion courses for non-Muslim children as part of upcoming debates on ‘freedom of religion and conscience’ article. AA photo

Göksel Bozkurt Göksel Bozkurt goksel.bozkurt@hurriyet.com.tr

Members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have proposed introducing elective religion courses for children being raised by parents who hold a religion or belief other than Islam, such as Buddhism.

The surprising proposal came during meetings of Parliament’s Constitution Conciliation Commission on July 5 and 6, the Hürriyet Daily News has learned.

In late March a law pushed by the AKP included the “Quran” and “The Life of Our Prophet” as elective courses in secondary and high schools. The courses, particularly the latter, drew criticism from followers of different religions and beliefs, as well as from opinion leaders, since its name expresses possession and thus ignores those followers. It is thought that the ruling party wants to demonstrate that it has taken the wide criticism into consideration with the proposal brought to the Parliament’s Constitution Conciliation Commission.

The proposal, introduced as part of upcoming debates on the article covering protection of “freedom of religion and conscience,” aims at creating opportunities for the children of parents who are Christian, Muslim or follow philosophies such as Buddhism. These parents will be able to demand elective courses either on the Bible, Torah or Buddhism. “While fulfilling its duties in fields of training and education, the state complies with the right of parents to demand training and education in line with their religious and philosophical beliefs,” says the AKP proposal.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) have approached the move positively, while the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) was still reviewing the proposal in detail. In its proposal, the AKP stated that the courses on “religious culture and ethical knowledge” should be compulsory, as they are at the moment. The existing courses on “religious culture and ethical knowledge” are mandated as compulsory in the 1982 Constitution, which is a legacy of the coup d’état of Sept. 12, 1980. In October 2007, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Turkey’s implementation of these compulsory courses was in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, and urged the Turkish government to bring the Turkish educational system and domestic legislation into conformity with Article 2 of Protocol No. 1, which covers the right to education. However, according to a recently announced survey, a majority of Turks support elective lessons on the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad’s life. The survey, conducted by Turkey’s Imam Hatip Graduates Foundation (TİMAV), was titled “The Perception of Islamic divinity high schools (İmam Hatip) in Turkey,” and showed that 76 percent of Turkish society was in favor of the elective classes, the forthcoming introduction of which has recently stirred debate.

Öcalan quarrel

The courses on the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad’s life will be taught as electives starting next year, when the controversial new education system is implemented. The elective classes have been criticized by opposition parties and civil society groups on the grounds that they could soon become “compulsory” due to social pressure.

Meanwhile, Friday’s meeting of Parliament’s Constitution Conciliation Commission witnessed a fierce debate between BDP deputies and the rest of the committee’s members. During debates on the article covering crimes and penalties, BDP requested the inclusion of an item stating: “It is banned to destroy the identity of arrested or convicted persons or to isolate such persons in order to reduce the physical and mental capacity of such persons.” All of the other members of the commission objected to the item, with the MHP’S Oktay Vural suggesting that the way it was expressed, it was designed to favor Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

July/07/2012

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