An open door has been violated by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in a judgment delivered today on the system of exemption from religious education lessons.
Parents and schoolgirls, seeking the annulment of the ministerial decisions due to violation of their rights to access a critical, pluralistic and objective lesson without recording their religious and philosophical beliefs, as required by the European Convention on Human Rights, appealed at the European Court against Gavroglu’s ministerial decisions in the summer of 2017.
In practice, the parents and the two pupils first resorted to the Greek Council of State and then to the ECHR, as the Greek Supreme Court of Appeals, after prolonged postponements from month to month, virtually abolished the possibility of judicial review and annulment of the ministerial decisions within the current school year.
The parents had appealed to the ECHR because they were “obliged to declare officially that their children are not Christian Orthodox” if they wanted them to get exemption from religious education, which in Greece is compulsory for all primary and secondary school pupils.
“The authorities have no right to interfere with one’s conscience, to control the religious beliefs of individuals or to force them to disclose them,” the ECHR says in a statement, which condemned Athens for violating the rights to education and freedom of religious conscience.
ECHR judges considered that this system runs the risk of preventing parents from seeking exemption from religious education for their children, especially families residing in small islands, such as Milos and Sifnos, where “the vast majority of the population belongs to a particular religion and the risk of stigmatization is clearly greater than in big cities.”