Right to Education

Human Rights Court Says Mandatory Religious Education in Greek Schools Violates the Convention

By: Mujtaba Ali Tirmizey

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

ATHENS, Greece — On October 31, 2019, the European Court of Human Rights (“ECHR”) held that mandatory religious education in Greek schools was a violation of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 (Right to Education) of the Convention, interpreted in light of Article 9 (Freedom of Thought, Conscience, and Religion).

The applicants in this case were two sets of parents and their daughters, who live on small Greek islands. Under the Greek Constitution, religious education is compulsory for all students at primary and secondary level.

In July 2017, the applicants had requested the Supreme Administrative Court to invalidate the religious education curriculum for the 2017-18 school year, when their daughters were entering the third and fourth grades respectively. With the new school year fast approaching, the two families requested to have their case considered urgently but the court dismissed their requests.

In January 2018, arguing that the procedure for exemption from religious classes conflicted with the European Convention, the applicants lodged a complaint with the ECHR. They claimed that if they were to have their daughters exempted from religious education, they would have to state that they were not Orthodox Christians. In filing their complaint, the applicants relied on Article 9 and Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 of the Convention.

The Court found that submitting a formal declaration saying that their children were not Orthodox Christians would place an undue burden on parents. The Court reasoned that the existing system in Greece for exempting children from religious education classes could potentially reveal sensitive aspects of an applicants’ private lives. In addition, the likelihood of conflict wound probably dissuade them from seeking exemption, particularly if they lived in a small and religiously condensed society, where the risk of stigmatization was much higher than in larger cities. Lastly, no other classes were offered to exempted students, which would lead to lost hours of schooling just for their professed beliefs.

Therefore, the Court held that there had been a violation of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1, as interpreted alongside Article 9 of the Convention. The Court emphasized that the authorities did not have the right to interfere in the scope of individual conscience, to establish individuals’ religious belief or to compel them to divulge their beliefs.

Greece lags behind almost all of the member states, where such an exemption procedure, or the option of attending a class in an alternate subject are already offered. This decision by ECHR is a monumental victory for religious minorities in Greece as it acknowledges their religious beliefs, allows them to be heard and strengthens their ability to pursue a modified curriculum in schools.

For further information, please see:

European Court of Human Rights – Greek System for Exempting Schoolchildren from Religious Education Classes Breaches the European Convention – 31 Oct. 2019

Law & Religion UK – Mandatory Religious Instruction Again: Papageorgiou – 31 Oct. 2019

 

Stoian v. Romania: Disabled Boy’s Right to Education Denied by European Court of Human Rights

By: Mujtaba Ali Tirmizey

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

BUCHAREST, Romania — On June 25, 2019, the European Court of Human Rights (“ECHR”), in a highly controversial decision, held that Romania did not deny the right to education and did not discriminate against a disabled boy and his single mother.

Stefan Stoian, now 18 years old. Photo Courtesy of Validity.

Stefan Stoian, a young boy with quadriplegia born in 2001, and his single mother, Luminita Stoian, complained that two state schools failed to accommodate Stefan and were mostly inaccessible for wheelchair users. They allege that learning was not customized with respect to teaching or testing the curricula, and the variety of therapies that Stefan required were not available. Luminita had to provide her son with personal assistance during school time, including carrying him around, helping him go to the toilet, and helping him with his physiotherapy exercises.

Luminita turned to a number of authorities in Romania to request the support that Stefan needed. The Government argued that both schools had adequate facilities and authorities had taken steps to enhance and modify them over time. They argued that he benefited from some educational support, physiotherapy, and occupational therapy, and he was also provided a personal assistant for short periods. Minimal change resulted from years of litigation and complaints, so Luminita turned to ECHR in 2013.

The complaint alleged a violation of the right to respect for private and family life, prevention of discrimination, and right to education violations, claiming that the authorities failed to take required measures to conform with their obligations under both national law and the European Convention. The Court noted that the authorities determined that Stefan should attend mainstream schools, which aligned with international standards. The Government admitted that there were delays in making sure that the school buildings in question met adequate standards.

The applicants also relied on United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which Romania ratified in 2011. It acknowledges the right to education in comprehensive settings for children with disabilities and requires governments to provide support (reasonable accommodation and personal assistance) to attain full participation and inclusion for children with disabilities in mainstream schools. The Court held that the authorities had not turned a blind eye to Stefan’s needs, but had apportioned resources to his schools to accommodate his special needs. There were certain issues along the way, but some of those problems had been generated by Luminita herself. As a result, the Court found that the authorities had complied with their obligations, and therefore, did not violate the Articles of the Convention.

The Court’s holding that fundamental rights of persons of disabilities are predominantly a matter of resources that prohibits them from protection under the Convention is discouraging. Furthermore, how the Court reached their judgment is troublesome: the case was downgraded to a three-judge Committee level, facts were distorted, Government’s views were given more weight and meaningful scrutiny was not applied. This case exposes the degree to which children with disabilities are marginalized and denied justice, and they are running out of options regarding what litigation strategies may produce an encouraging result at the Court.

For further information, please see:

Strasbourg Observers – Stoian v. Romania: The Court’s Drift on Disability Rights Intensifies – 5 Sept. 2019

European Court of Human Rights – Romania Took Sufficient Steps to Make Reasonable Accommodation for Disabled Child to Attend School – 25 June 2019

Validity – Romania: Justice denied for Stefan Stoian after a decade of legal action – 28 June 2019