Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Education should facilitate, not undermine, freedom of religion or belief

The need to review and reform Turkey's primary and secondary school education system to facilitate freedom of religion or belief is urgent. Members of various religious communities have identified key problems in the compulsory Religious Culture and Knowledge of Ethics school classes themselves, in the way exemption from these classes is strictly limited, and in the discrimination experienced by children seeking exemption and their parents or guardians. Also, textbooks in classes on the History of Turkish Republican Reforms and Atatürkism provide misleading information encouraging intolerance.

Many in Turkey – from both religious and secular backgrounds – consider that this is an urgent problem, as these aspects of the school system play a role in fuelling intolerance and a type of nationalism behind violent attacks and possibly even murders experienced by vulnerable groups.

Compulsory classes, limited exemptions

Religious Culture and Knowledge of Ethics classes, for between one and two hours a week, are compulsory in all primary and secondary schools. Lessons are heavily based on the Sunni branch of Islam, and the textbooks are prepared and published by the Education Ministry. The state must provide some classes in this subject – although not necessarily in the current form - as Article 24 ("Freedom of religion and conscience") of the 1982 Constitution states that: "Education and instruction in religion and ethics shall be conducted under state supervision and control. Instruction in religious culture and moral education shall be compulsory in the curricula of primary and secondary schools."


All ethnic groups in Turkey are equal

All the members of Turkey’s ethnic and religious groups are “first-class citizens,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said during Tuesday parliamentary group meetings while also criticizing the country’s main pro-Kurdish party.

“Our country has many ethnic components. We see this as richness. We said we would not practice ethnic, regional or religious nationalism. There are those who mock us, but we see them as sub-identities that unite,” said Erdoğan