European court tells Turkey to end compulsory religion course

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ruled that Turkey's compulsory religion course violates the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) article regarding the right to education, and urged Turkey to switch to a new system in which students would not be required to take such a class.

The ECtHR announced its verdict on Tuesday regarding an appeal filed in Ankara in 2011 by 14 Turkish citizens who are members of the Alevi faith regarding the compulsory Culture of Religion and Knowledge of Morality course given at Turkish schools. Stating that recent changes made to the class' course books are not enough to keep the class from violating the ECHR, the court reminded the Turkish state of its “obligation to be neutral and impartial” regarding religious issues.

The court said that arrangements should be made as soon as possible so that students will no longer have to take the class and that such a course should be offered as an elective.

The court found that Turkey has violated Article 2 of the ECHR in the case of Mansur Yalçın and Others v. Turkey. It said, “The Court observed in particular that in the field of religious instruction, the Turkish education system was still inadequately equipped to ensure respect for parents' convictions.” It further noted that as per an earlier decision of the court on another, related case, Turkey must remedy the situation without delay.

The court judgment noted that although Turkey had introduced some changes to the structure of religion courses, including the inclusion of information about the Alevi faith, “aspects of the curriculum had not really been overhauled since it predominantly focused on knowledge of Islam as practised and interpreted by the majority of the Turkish population.”

The court said an exemption procedure should be put in place, as the applicants' belief that the approach adopted in the religion classes is likely to cause their children to face a “conflict of allegiance” between their values and those taught in school. It noted, “The discrepancies complained of by the applicants between the approach adopted in the curriculum and the particular features of their faith as compared with the Sunni understanding of Islam were so great that they would scarcely be alleviated by the mere inclusion in textbooks of information about Alevi beliefs and practice.” It also noted that Christian and Jewish pupils already have the possibility to be exempted from religion classes, and added that almost all EU states offer an exemption method out of religious studies classes.