Istanbul court exempts child from compulsory religion class
ISTANBUL – Dinçer Gökçe
An Istanbul court has ruled unanimously in favor of a family’s request to exempt their child from middle school religion classes, on the grounds that “the content of the curriculum should be objective and pluralist.”
“The state, which must remain unbiased on religious issues, should see all religious beliefs as equivalent,” the ruling said.
The decision concerns a fifth grader at a school in Istanbul’s Eyüp district, whose parents applied on Jan. 23 to the school management demanding their child be exempted from “Religious Culture and Moral Knowledge” classes. The school rejected the family’s request, stating that the relevant class was compulsory.
The parents then petitioned the Istanbul 10th administrative court. “The child represented by the complainants has experienced psychological traumas due to a class that goes against her beliefs … The class confuses her and provokes inner conflict. She might even fail this class. Forcing her to attend is against the law and she has sustained serious psychological injury,” the petition read.
The family’s petition also accuses the school of providing religious education that counters their own religious beliefs and philosophical views.
The Istanbul provincial directorate for national education defended the school, saying it acted “in line with law.” The directorate also argued that the class should remain compulsory because it “benefits the public and represents a necessary part of education services.”
The Istanbul court reached a verdict at the end of October, ruling in favor of the family.
“Education should correspond with a curriculum appropriate to the purposes of the constitution … If the education curriculum adopts a specific religious stance, the class is no longer a class on ‘Religious Culture and Moral Knowledge’ but rather part of ‘religious education,’” the court said in its decision, referring to the 24th article of the constitution, which provides for compulsory “Religious Culture and Moral Knowledge” classes in elementary and middle schools.
The administrative court also referred to similar rulings handed down by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
The complainant family’s lawyer, Tuba Torun, said the court’s ruling upheld “basic human rights.”
“Both the 24th article of the Turkish Constitution and the 9th article of the European Convention of Human Rights sanctify the freedom of religion and conscience as a basic human right. Compulsory religious classes contravene these rights,” Torun said.
Although rulings have dealt with this issue in the past, this is the first time an Istanbul court has exempted an atheist student from compulsory religious class, Torun added.