ECHR rejects Turkish appeal to ruling on compulsory religion classes
Güven Özalp BRUSSELSThe European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has rejected Turkey’s appeal to a ruling that said high school students must be allowed to opt out of religious education classes, which are currently compulsory.
ECHR ruled on Sept. 16, 2014, that the Turkish education system was “still inadequately equipped to ensure respect for parents’ convictions” and violated the “right to education,” in a case stemming from Alevi complaints about mandatory religious classes.
In December 2014, Turkey appealed to the ECHR’s Grand Chamber, the court’s office of appeal, on the last day available to do so, requesting that the case be reviewed. The Grand Chamber, however, rejected Turkey’s appeal on Feb. 17, 2015, with no elaboration, rendering the decision as ultimate.
In 2011, applicants Mansur Yalçın, Yüksel Polat and Hasan Kılıç, who are adherents of the Alevi faith and whose children were at secondary school at the time in question, complained that the content of the compulsory classes in religion and ethics in schools was based exclusively on the Sunni understanding of Islam, claiming that Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights Protocol No. 1 (right to education) had been violated.
In its ruling, the court observed in particular that in the field of religious instruction, Turkey’s education system was still inadequately equipped to ensure respect for parents’ convictions.
“Turkey has to remedy the situation without delay, in particular by introducing a system whereby pupils could be exempted from religion and ethics classes without their parents having to disclose their own religious or philosophical convictions,” said the court.
According to the directive sent by the Education Ministry’s Religious Education Directorate to provincial officials on Feb. 3, the “religion” field of a child’s identity card will be checked to decide whether they are allowed to opt out of religious education classes. If the field is left empty, or if any religion other than Christianity and Judaism is written, then the student will be obliged to take the class.
Previously, Turkish authorities had considered it adequate for a student to opt out of the controversial classes if their father or mother is either Christian or Jewish. Other faiths, like Alevism, or a lack of faith, have never been recognized by Turkish authorities as a reason for exemption from the mandatory classes.