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Turkey: Court Rules that Child Can Be Exempted from Compulsory Religious Classes

(Mar. 30, 2017) It was reported on March 15, 2017, that a court in Turkey’s southern province of Antalya had issued a decision stating that “compulsory religion classes are ‘openly against the law.’” The ruling was in response to a complaint filed by an atheist family seeking to have their child, “E.D.,” exempted from compulsory classes on religion. (Compulsory Religion Class ‘Against the Law,’ Court in Turkey’s South Rules, HÜRRIYET DAILY NEWS (Mar. 15, 2017); They Have Won a Lawsuit for Their Daughter to Be Exempted from Compulsory Religious Education, HABERCI07 (Mar. 15, 2017) (in Turkish).)

On November 17, 2016, the family had applied to the governor’s office in the district of Muratpasa to seek an exemption for the child from attending her primary school’s religion and morality classes, but the governor’s office responded that the class was compulsory. Assisted by the Antalya branch of the Education and Science Workers’ Union, the family then applied to the Antalya Fourth Administrative Court. The family had previously filed a similar case on behalf of their older daughter and had won that suit. (Compulsory Religion Class ‘Against the Law,’ Court in Turkey’s South Rules, supra.)

Reportedly, according to the court file, the plaintiffs contended that “the class is not taught in an ‘objective and pluralistic way,’ as the curriculum is based on only one religion, Sunni Islam.” (Id.) They also argued that “the fact that the class is compulsory, even though it could be against a student’s beliefs and philosophical views, is against the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.” (Id.; Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms as Amended by Protocols No. 11 and No. 14 (Nov. 4, 1950), European Treaty Series – No. 5, Council of Europe website.)

The court ruled for a stay of execution in the case. It also opined that for the student to take the compulsory religion class would lead to “irreparable”consequences” for the plaintiffs. (Compulsory Religion Class ‘Against the Law,’ Court in Turkey’s South Rules, supra.)