Greek Orthodox students cannot be exempted from religious classes


Southern Europe

A priest spreads holy water to bless pupils on the first day of the 2023-24 academic year. In Greece, education and the Greek Orthodox Church are closely connected. Photo EPA, Vasilis Psomas

A Greek judge ruled that students who belong to the Greek Orthodox Church must follow religious classes.

The verdict is part of a larger conflict between the Greek Ministry of Education and the Atheist Union of Greece, Christian Today writes. In Greece, the public education system is closely linked to religious education. The Ministry of Education is even called the Ministry of Education, Religious Affairs and Sports. The Greek Constitution stipulates that education in the country has the goal of developing students’ “national and religious consciousness.”

Therefore, all students who are part of the Greek Orthodox Church are required to follow religious classes, starting in Grade 3 and continuing all the way through high school. In the country, about 90 per cent of the population identifies as Orthodox Christian, Chrisitan Today points out. However, only 17 per cent are regular churchgoers.

However, the religious classes do have some exemptions for students who are non-Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims, Atheists or agnostic. Thus, about 10,500 students did not attend the classes with permission in recent years, Kathemerini writes. Instead, they will likely have to follow a “neutral” course.


However, according to the Atheist Union of Greece, this course of events is unfair, the Dutch Christian news outlet CVandaag writes. According to the Union, students should not have to request an exemption to be able to skip the class. This violates the privacy of students, the Union argued, as schools have to keep track of the religion of each individual student. In addition, this record enables teachers or school administrators to discriminate against students who request an exemption. Therefore, the Atheist Union took the matter to court in 2015. Their case is supported by the European Court of Human Rights.

In reaction, the Ministry of Education changed the wording of the exemption request. Now it reads that “reasons of religious conscience do not allow the participation in the Religious Studies course.”

The Council of State and Administrative Justice rejected the complaint of the Union, arguing that the change of wording is sufficient to protect the privacy of students. “The application in question is made for the sake of exemption from the obligation imposed by the Constitution and the law to attend religious classes”, the verdict reads. Also, “the request for exemption does not reveal specific religious beliefs”, it adds.

The verdict does not mean that the case is now closed. Napoleon Papistas, the secretary of the Atheist Union of Greece, has already promised he will go into appeal to the European Convention on Human Rights.



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