IRLA Experts Develop Religious Education Strategy


IRLA board of experts meeting in progress
IRLA Secretary General John Graz is second from right

May 21, 2001. Caceres, Spain [IRLA News] The International Religious Liberty Association board of experts meeting in Spain May 17-21 developed a strategy for freedom of religion in education in preparation for the UN-sponsored Conference to be held in Madrid, Spain in November 2001.

The board of experts brought together religious freedom professionals and educators from a wide range of backgrounds and countries, reports John Graz, IRLA secretary general. "We were able to make much progress in defining the role of religious education especially as it relates to concepts of religious freedom and human rights. Such preparatory meetings are essential to produce a clear framework for the development of educational curricula in which freedom of conscience and respect for human rights can be developed."

The board of experts meeting was held in Caceres at the invitation of the University of Extremadura with the participation of the department of religious affairs, Spanish Ministry of Justice, with several academic and official representatives also present.

The UN 2001 Madrid International Consultative Conference on School Education in Relation to Freedom of Religion and Belief, Tolerance and Non-discrimination is the most significant UN conference to address such concepts, says Graz. The Caceres meeting was designed to provide direct input into the Conference, and an 18-point recommendation document was voted by the board of experts.

The recommendations include re-affirmation of the right to receive religious education, the importance to limit state intervention according to international norms, and the respect for freedom of conscience and religious convictions in state-directed education.

The recommendations conclude that "The UN Madrid Conference should take into account the importance of religious traditions in modern life. The Conference should encourage school religious education to foster a culture of peace through a better understanding among persons and groups of different religions or philosophical backgrounds." [Jonathan Gallagher]