TURKEY Ankara, the battle for compulsory Islam at school and flouted rights

The Constitutional Court of Turkey recognizes two decisions of the European Court which denounce the violation of rights. The legal battle of a family that opposes their daughter’s compulsory attendance at Muslim religion classes. Attacks from the conservative faction and government officials. Doubts about the future application of the sentence.

Istanbul (AsiaNews) – Although the phrase cannot be called historic, it is certainly notable for its importance in the issue of religious freedom in Turkey. A country in which, even in the recent past, there has been controversial episodes and in which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is himself the spokesperson for a policy of nationalism and islam. In recent days, the Turkish Constitutional Court recognized two previous judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, which had criticized Ankara for the principles and content of compulsory religious education for minors. For this reason, the judges of the Supreme Court ruled that forcing children and young people to be educated in a certain faith – forcing them to attend classes -, going against the will of their parents, is a flagrant violation of their rights. .

However, analysts and experts doubt the government will accept the decision. And that he will adjust his policy to conform to what the award establishes.

The decision of the Constitutional Court is the result of a long legal battle initiated more than 10 years ago by Huseyin El, to prevent his daughter from taking courses in the Muslim religion. The school principal insisted that Nazli Sirin El, then a fourth-grade student, attend classes because only Christian and Jewish citizens were exempt. The girl’s family follows Alevism, one of the many sects of Islam that celebrate rites in meeting houses (cemevi), rather than in mosques.

Esra Basbakkal, the family’s lawyer, said al-Monitor that “compelling a parent to reveal or document his faith is a violation of Article 24 of the Constitution”, according to which “no one may be compelled to reveal his religious beliefs and convictions”. The lower court, 13 years ago, ruled in favor of the student based on national laws and international conventions. But the Ministry of Education appealed to the Council of State, which overturned the decision. In 2014, the case reached the Constitutional Court: eight years later, the decision determined that the compulsory attendance of Muslim classes was a violation of human rights and the right of the family to choose the educational path of their children.

“It’s a decision that has been postponed for too long, but it’s going in the right direction,” said Orhan Kemal Cengiz. The human rights lawyer has been closely following the El family case and two other similar stories. “Local courts usually ignore the decisions of the European Court, but now they have to pay attention to those of the Constitutional Court. There were several comments from the radical and conservative faction, as well as criticism from the ruling party, although the top officials, including the president, they have yet to comment on. Yen Akit called the constitutional judges’ decision a “scandal”. Mehmet Akif Yilmaz, a member of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Education Commission, said it was a “treason” that religion classes “in this land blessed by Islam” can be judged as a “violation of human rights”. Our people “will not allow such a betrayal” of values, he added.

Religious classes were optional until the military coup of 1980. The government of generals led by Kenan Evren – in an effort to control education and avoid radical or fanatical excesses – introduced compulsory attendance, which was enshrined in the 1982 Constitution. In reality, it tends to nourish above all a Sunni Islamism, which increases the discomfort of many secular students and parents, who demand more history of religions and fewer Islamic precepts.

Compulsory worship time proves how much secular values ​​in education have been distorted, compared to early Republican administrations. This escalation was reinforced with the coming to power of the AKP in 2002 and the introduction of a new school system in 2012 with other “optional” subjects: the Koran, the Life of the Prophet Muhammad and the Basic religious knowledge. In most cases they became mandatory because there was no other alternative. For lawyer Basbakkal, the best option would be to transform them into elective courses. However, given the position of the government, such a change, however desirable, seems unlikely. In September, Diyanet (the Ministry of Religious Affairs) announced its intention to introduce compulsory Quran lessons for pre-school children, and the implementation of pilot lessons in several cities is planned.

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