On June 1, 2021, the Ministerial Decision of the Ministry of Education and Religion (No. 61178 / DG4) determining how students will be exempted from a series of lessons, including religious studies, was published in the Government Gazette (Government Gazette 2286 / Β ‘/ 01.06.2021). According to the relevant provision of the decision:
“Students who are not Christian Orthodox (i.e. those of other faiths, non-Orthodox Christians, atheists, agnostics) may, if they wish, be released from the obligation to attend the Religious Studies course by submitting an application to their school which will state the following: “Reasons of religious conscience do not allow the participation (of me or my child) in the course of Religious Studies”. The application is signed by the student himself/herself, if he/she is an adult, or by both his/her parents/guardians, if he/she is a minor. Only if parental responsibility is exercised by one parent, then the signature of one parent is enough.”
However, as noted by the Hellenic League for Human Rights (HLHR), the above statement does not differ from previous years. The process followed however, has been found to be problematic both in terms of data protection legislation and human rights conventions. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in the case of ‘Papageorgiou and others’ found the process problematic in the context of the second paragraph of Article 2 of the First Additional Protocol (Right to Education), interpreted in the light of Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) on freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Also see the Greek Data Protection Authority’s decision (32/2020).
According to the ECtHR, state authorities do not have the right to intervene in the sphere of individual conscience and to ascertain individuals’ religious beliefs or oblige them to reveal their beliefs concerning spiritual matters, while according to the Data Protection Authority, the exemption from religious studies should be done in a way that protects citizens’ personal data. However, according to the Hellenic League for Human Rights, the decision of the Ministry of Education on how to exempt students from religious studies does not comply with the above requirements, despite the recent condemnation of Greece by the European Court of Human Rights on this matter.
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