Recommendations on Freedom of Religion or Belief in Education

Board of Experts of the International Religious Liberty Association
University of Extremadura, Cáceres, Spain
May 17-21, 2001

Introduction

With the objective of making a contribution to the United Nations 2001 Madrid International Consultative Conference on School Education in Relation to Freedom of Religion or Belief, Tolerance and Non-Discrimination, and with the larger objective of fostering peace and contributing to a culture of tolerance, a Committee of Experts of the International Religious Liberty Association and the Association internationale pour la Défense de la liberté religieuse have met at the University of Extremadura, Cáceres, Spain, from May 17-21, 2001.

Having in mind the various provisions of international instruments affirming the right to freedom of religion and belief, and the right to education, including Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights, Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Article 18, 20 and 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, and various pertinent General Comments of the United Nations Human Rights Committee;

Aware that Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognizes "the right of everyone to education";

Aware that religious is a part of education in general, which has to be assured;

Aware that the right to give religious education is a primary right of parents, who transmit religious faith and traditions to their children within the family and are legitimately concerned about conveying these values to their children in other settings within society;

Aware of the responsibility of civil society and public authorities not only for the present but also for the well-being of future generations;

Aware of the positive role that religion can play in contributing to human society in general, and in contributing to respect for human dignity and human rights;

Aware of the profound and growing demand for religious knowledge and spirituality;

Aware that in a pluralistic society, it is vital to respect different religious ideas, fundamental beliefs and life stances among both majority and minority communities in order for all to be able to live in harmony together;

Aware of the great variety of national legislation on the issue of religious education in public institutions, and understanding that States have broad flexibility in structuring their education systems, in accordance with the requirements on international human rights instruments;

Aware that different models of education related to religion exist ranging from a confessional based education to the exclusion of religion from school curricula

Aware that education has a broader scope than merely school education, but also noting that the Madrid Conference to be held in November 2001 will focus on school education;

The Committee of Experts Finds and Recommends:

  1. Education in human rights, according to the international human rights instruments, is the set of activities oriented to create in the person a universal culture of human rights with the purpose of strengthening the respect for these human rights.
  2. Religious education involves not only transmission of knowledge and values pertaining to one’s own religion, but also learning about other religions and respecting those who believe differently.
  3. The right to receive religious education derives both from the right to freedom of religion and belief and from the right of parents to choose the kind of education to be given to their children.
  4. Religious instruction, understood as teaching about religion, may contribute to the full development of the human personality. Such religious instruction is offered in public and in private schools and should in either case be fair and respectful.
  5. Where public education includes confessional instruction in the religions of pupils or students, it is assumed that it is given by educators accepted by the respective religious organization, and that provisions are made for non-discriminatory alternatives for those parents or school children over the age of maturity who do not wish to avail themselves of this instruction.
  6. The limitations placed by State law on the exercise of the freedom to teach religion in public or free educational institutions are those necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
  7. Religion may be a part of an academic curriculum taught during the regular school day, but should not be a cause of discrimination for students.
  8. The fundamental principle of respect for the beliefs of others, as well as the fundamental right to religious freedom, as defined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is an appropriate topic for discussion in all religious education programs. Moreover, religious instruction should teach how religious beliefs relate to these basic human rights and give them a proper foundation.
  9. Inter-religious boards should be established and encouraged to develop curricula and textbooks for better understanding and respect of religions.
  10. Academically qualified teachers of religion in public education must perform their tasks with objectivity and full respect for religious freedom and diversity, taking into consideration the profound emotional elements involved in religious phenomenon.
  11. The religious dimension of human life should be taken into account in full respect of the range of academic freedom on all levels in all fields of education to more fully understand the complexities and richness of personality, culture and community.
  12. Religious education programs in public school curricula should include teaching about freedom of religion and belief, and contribute to the education of human rights, mutual respect, and non-discrimination. This includes that religions clearly investigate the specific contribution they offer in order to create a mentality of mutual respect, so as to avoid perpetuating inter-religious strife, prejudice or persecution.
  13. It is a duty of public authorities to secure respect for all religions and to strive to eliminate all forms of discrimination in religious education.
  14. Public educational institutions should exert their best efforts to accommodate the days of rest and holidays of religious believers. Curricular requirements that have a significant bearing on a student’s future opportunities should not be scheduled on such holidays or days of rest, or alternative dates of performance should be allowed. Accommodation may take the form of excusing absences and allowing work to be made up. Measures for respecting days of rest and holidays should be reasonable in light of existing realities.
  15. Students should not be precluded from wearing religious clothing or symbols at school except as necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedom of others.
  16. Religious education should provide students with respectful exposure to the ideas of others in order to prepare them for life in an increasing pluralistic society. This will help to deepen respect for human dignity, and is likely to contribute to the solution of other problems, such as racism and xenophobia.
  17. UNESCO should consider developing programs on religious education and religious freedom in the context of globalization.
  18. The UN Madrid Conference should take into account the increasing 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 religious or philosophical backgrounds.

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