European ombudsman, Nikiforos Diamandouros, has asked the European Commission to clarify how it conducts its dialogue with religious and non-religious organisations and, if necessary, draw up concrete guidelines on this issue.
One of the thorniest issues that requires clarification is religious
education in schools. Religion is taught in most European schools, but
not all of these teach the Catholic religion or one religion in
particular, with the exception of Italy, where Catholicism reigns
supreme, Greece and Cyprus, where the Orthodox faith is the established
religion and Turkey, where the Muslim faith is dominant.
Then there are
twelve multi-religious countries both in terms of the various
denominations, including non-Christian ones (Judaism, Islam and
Buddhism) that exist and in terms of interdenominational disciplines
(Sweden, UK and some Swiss cantons). The latter is very popular in
Hamburg at the moment. Naturally, the question arises as to why the
“German Pope” wants to deny Italy something which in Germany is neither
scandalous nor causes problems to ecclesiastical authorities or to the
In Southern Germany, which is prevalently Catholic, the teaching of
Islam, in the Turkish language in some cases, is a widespread
phenomenon. There are six countries in which different religions
(Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant) are taught in the same school or
region, sometimes in different parts of the country. Schools in Bulgaria
and Russia teach both the Orthodox and Muslim religions. In Russia,
Buddhism and Judaism are also taught de jure, whilst Finnish schools
cover a number of Protestant denominations. Only three European
countries do not offer religious education in schools: France (except
Alsace-Lorraine), Hungary (where religion is an optional extracurricular
subject) and Slovenia.
In some countries, there are only some areas or schools that do not
teach religion (Sweden), cantons (Switzerland) and some grades
(Bulgarian secondary school). In six other countries (Latvia, Lithuania,
Poland, Slovakia, Portugal and Luxemburg) religious education is not
part of the curriculum as such, but is an alternative to a lay “ethical”
curriculum. Something similar to this is taking place in the federal
states of Brandenburg and Berlin, where a referendum rejected the idea
of making religious education obligatory in schools. In Belgium and in
Croatian secondary schools, religion is an optional subject, the
alternative being ethics or morality classes.
In other countries, religious studies are an obligatory subject with
the possibility of exemption (in 14 countries, as happened in Italy
before the Concordat with the Vatican was signed in 1984) or it is
optional (in 12 countries such as Italy after the Concordat with the
Vatican was signed in 1984). In some countries, certain areas (Swiss
cantons) and school grades (Croatia) offer both obligatory and optional
religious studies classes. Only twelve countries offer alternative
disciplines to pupils who do not want to attend religious studies
classes (including countries where religion is offered as an
alternative). In nine countries the subject offered as an alternative is
Ethics and in three cases (Italy, Russia, Ukraine), individual schools
choose their own alternative activities.
In Germany, it is up to each individual lände to
choose what the alternative subject will be: it could be Ethics or
Practical Philosophy or History of Religion or a combination of all
three. Seventeen countries offer no alternative subject. In 17 of the 31
countries taken into consideration, the state is said to control
religious education. In Italy and Spain, for example, it is the bishops
who decide on nominations. In Italy teachers are either hired on a
permanent (by passing an exam) or temporary basis, in Spain they have a
fixed-term contract but are not permanent members of staff.
In Greece too, religious studies teachers are public sector workers.
In eleven countries, to teach religion, one must have a university
degree or diploma in theology or religious studies, awarded by state
universities. In fifteen countries, including Italy, an ecclesiastical
certificate attests to the teacher’s ability to teach religion. In
Bulgaria and the French region of Alsace-Lorraine, religion is taught
directly by clerics (deacons, pastors, catechists).