AK Party to make religious courses at schools optional

Anakara, Turkey - The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has decided that courses on religion will be optional in elementary and secondary schools in Turkey following a decision handed down by the European Court of Human Rights on the petition of an Alevi father who did not want his daughter to take compulsory religious courses.

After a meeting of the Central Executive Committee on Tuesday presided over by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, it was announced that classes on religion, culture and morality will be compulsory while religious courses will be optional in elementary and secondary schools.

A statement released after the meeting disclosed that Article 24 of the 1982 Constitution will be preserved. Article 24 makes courses on religion compulsory, though significant changes will be introduced to the curriculum, according to the statement. Students will be given information about other religions, denominations and religious doctrines within the new curriculum. Students who do not want to attend courses on religion will be allowed to abstain from attending them but will have to receive “universal religious knowledge” courses where all religions are covered equally.

Though the AK Party did not seem to welcome the idea of optional courses on religion set out in the new draft constitution, it ruled that the students who do not want to take the courses will be granted the right to refrain from attending them based on the decision of the European court on a complaint filed by Hasan Zengin, an Alevi father who did not want his daughter to attend the courses. The European court approved the father’s application and stated that courses on religion in Turkey are not impartial, illustrating that students are made to memorize chapters of the Quran. The European court has adopted the opinion that “compulsory religious education is a violation of freedom” and condemned Turkey, instructing it to pay court fees in the amount of 3,700 euros to the Zengin family.

State Minister Said Yazıcıoğlu said the decision of the European court was not surprising for Turkey and added: “We will revise the curriculum of the courses on religion. I think the adjudication of the European court is related to the content of the courses on religion.”