Academic journal article Review of European Studies

The Teaching of Religious Education in Public Schools in the Nordic Countries of Europe

Academic journal article Review of European Studies

The Teaching of Religious Education in Public Schools in the Nordic Countries of Europe

Article excerpt

Abstract

Christianity has constituted the cultural and ethical foundation of Europe. In the European Union (EU) a general regulation does not exist concerning religious education (RE) in schools, although there is a guarantee to parents that their children should be educated in agreement with their religious convictions.

Using the research methodology characteristic of Comparative Education, we analyzed the constitutions and distinct facets of religious education in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. The legal framework has been gleaned from these countries' respective constitutions, in which moreover the right to religious freedom is explicitly embodied, except in the case of Norway where it is implicit.

In the constitutions of Denmark and Finland, clear references are made to compulsory schooling free of charge (art. 76 and art. 16, respectively), whereas the Swedish constitution only alludes to the Government's responsibility in the area of education (art. 7.1) and the Norwegian constitution focuses on the education of the King (art. 47).

In the four countries under investigation we found that the question of religion and morality was treated with special attention. With respect to freedom to choose whether or not to take RE, while it was a compulsory subject within the school curriculum in Denmark, Finland and Sweden, since 2007 pupils in Norway have been allowed to refuse to take "Christianity, religion and philosophy".

Keywords: religion, school, Christianity, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden

1. Introduction

In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (10 December 1948) is enshrined the right of every citizen to receive an elementary, compulsory and free education as well as the right of parents to the choose the education they wish for their children. It is stated unequivocally that "parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children" (art. 26.3). In order for these recommendations to be put adequately into practice educational systems offer parents a diverse range of options which differ from one country to another.

Likewise, Resolution 2200 of the General Assembly of the United Nations states expressly that signatories shall "... have respect for the liberty of parents, and, when applicable, legal guardians to choose for their children schools, other than those established by the public authorities, which conform to such minimum educational standards as may be laid down or approved by the State and to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions" (Assembly of 16 December1966: art. 13.3) (Note 1).

Under the terms of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights ratified by the General Assembly of the United Nations (16 December 1966), the States parties undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents or when applicable, their legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions (art. 18.4).

In Europe, we have the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms signed in Rome in 1950, for which Council of Europe drew on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Although no reference was made initially to the right to education, it was regulated two years later by the Additional Protocol 1 drafted in Paris on 20 March 1952. Here it is stated that no person shall be denied the right to education and that the State, in the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions (art. 2).

The jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, which is the competent body for the interpretation and application of the Covenant and subsequent protocols (art. 32.1 of the Covenant), has mied that each of the two sentences it contains should be read in the light of the other and that both should be read in the light of articles 8, 9 and 10 of the Covenant (which recognizes the right to respect for private and family life, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and freedom of expression) (Note 2), without any distinction being made between public and private education in the protection of these rights. …

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