'No obligatory classes means religious illiteracy'

Ankara, Turkey - The Religious Affairs Directorate yesterday accused those seeking an end to obligatory religion classes in Turkish schools of advocating religious illiteracy.

In a case filed by a Turkish Alevi two years ago with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), after exhausting domestic legal procedures, the top international court ruled recently that to make religion courses in schools obligatory for all Muslim students, including Alevis, is a violation of the European Convention of Human Rights on the freedom of religion and conscience. The final verdict is expected to be made by the fall.

Prof. Sevki Aydin, the deputy director of the directorate, responded to recent criticism of the classes, saying, "To say that the obligatory religion classes shouldn't be is to advocate religious illiteracy."

Harshly orificial of the ECHR ruling, Aydin said that many students in western countries are obliged attend to ethics classes even when they don't attend obligatory religion classes.

Aydin, who stated that the religious culture and ethics classes in Turkey are about culture, said, "We can't teach our culture without teaching that related to religion. So an education system that fails to convey culture is failing to educate children."

To select those who will and those who won't attend the obligatory religion courses is impossible, argued the professor, adding that the obligatory classes aren't problematic in terms of secularism or human rights.

Aydin recalled that Article 24 of the Constitution stipulates that everyone has the right to religious education. "There are no constitutional obstacles for Alevis who wish their children to learn about the Alevi sect in detail," he said.

The Education Ministry, also in response to the recent criticism of the classes, held a press conference late Tuesday, announced that the Alevi sect will be included in the curriculum of state religious culture and ethics classes by next year.

Ministry officials recalled that many non-Muslim students have been exempted from the obligatory religion classes by submitting petitions to the related institutions and urged Alevis to do the same.

It was also highlighted that as part of an amendment to the Birth Registration Law it's no longer obligatory to fill in the religion section on ID cards.

"Those with 'Muslim' registered on their ID cards can't avoid the classes," one official said.