3.10 Religion and the Public Law Framework in Education

In 2011, a consortium of European researchers conducted research on the manner in
which educational law is applied to regulate religious rights in state-funded schools. In particular, the research reviewed the accommodation
of Islam in state-funded education. Due to historical development, European countries have
developed different state-church relations which are reflected in the educational systems. Thus, the key question is, how flexible are these systems to accommodate the request of parents and pupils
for religious instruction, especially other than Christianity? The researchers use comparative research to explore five key issues: religious instruction in public schools, wearing religious symbols in public schools, presence of religious symbols in classrooms in public schools, the establishment and operation of private state funded schools, and access to private state funded schools. Except for France, religious instruction is in
principle compulsory during the school hours with the possibility to opt-out or to attend alternative classes. Where religious instruction in public schools is compulsory, three different models can be summarized in various countries, which provide for: teaching only one single religion, with a possibility for pupils or through their parents to opt-out. Confessional religious education of several religions and pupils or parents may choose the teaching they intend to follow. Often this includes the choice of a course on ethics. A form of non-denominational religious education, focusing on learning the basic characteristics of the major religions. In some countries it is compulsory In other countries pupils or parents can opt-out. The Netherlands, for example, has a combination
of all these models in its educational system. Islamic instruction does not find much space
in the public schools of EU member countries where a denominational religious education exists. There are several ways to accommodate
the request of Islamic instruction in schools. Some countries organize Islamic instruction depending on the number of Muslims
attending the class or school. If this number is too small, the pupils may
have to have their religious instruction together with children from
other classes or other schools or the number of hours
they spend in school is shortened. Some countries allow Muslim pupils and parents who are
given the opportunity to receive Islamic instruction in school to opt-out and eventually receive most of their
Islamic instruction in their local communities. Finally, some countries allow Muslim parents
to make arrangements for their children to receive religious education away from school,
during school hours. Moreover, the actual requirements to ensure
an effective functioning of the complex mechanism regulating Islamic instruction in schools
are to a great extent still lacking in many countries. A major difficulty concerns the availability of
a properly trained teaching staff and textbooks in the official language
of the EU countries. Countries have legislated on religious clothing
or religious symbols in school. Some prohibit students from wearing
religious attire or symbols. Other countries have dress codes
which allows the wearing of religious attire or symbols unless if prohibited in the school regulations. Others allow the wearing of religious attire
or symbols as a fundamental right. Countries have also addressed the presence
of crucifixes in public school classrooms. Some countries ban crucifixes
from public school classrooms. Other countries allow crucifixes in public school
classrooms unless someone raises objections. Other countries make crucifixes compulsory in public
school classrooms unless someone raises objections. Some countries make crucifixes compulsory
in public school classrooms. The number of private state funded schools
significantly differs between European countries. In the Netherlands and
the Flemish Community of Belgium, private state-funded schools play a very important
role in the educational system. In fact, more than 50% of the pupils attend
private state-funded schools in the Netherlands and the Flemish Community of Belgium, whereas, for example, in Austria only about 6%
of all schools are private-state funded institutions. The number of Islamic schools differs significantly
between European countries. In some countries with large Islamic communities,
such as Great Britain, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, and the Flemish Community of Belgium, few Islamic schools are recognized or few
are supported by the State if they exist at all. In countries where private state-funded
denominational schools are a majority, the question arises whether the governing
boards of confessional Christian schools can refuse pupils of another belief. One can distinguish four legislative models: Some legislative models oblige
schools to accept all pupils. Others allow state-funded denominational schools
to refuse pupils of other beliefs A third form of legislative model permits state-funded
denominational schools to refuse pupils of other beliefs but if officials in these schools accept such pupils, they are obliged to provide religious
instruction in other denominations. The last legislative model obliges
schools to accept all pupils but there is no obligation to teach
denominations other than their own religion. It is very important to distinguish the
principles laid down in the law, and the actual practice in the field
by school governing boards. It is likely that pupils in Christian schools
in some countries or areas where there are significant numbers of Muslim children
have opportunities to receive Islamic instruction. However, this question is in need of further research. When regulating religious rights in education, the common denominator is that States are forbidden
to pursue the aim of indoctrination that might be considered as not respecting parental
religious and philosophical convictions. This is the limit that must not be exceeded. Yet, what constitutes indoctrination or what is
offensive to someone, is not always clear. What is clear is that there is no single solution. In each country, it is necessary
to examine the circumstances under which pupils are to be entitled
to receive religious instruction or to manifest their religious beliefs
in a particular state-funded school.

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