Friday, January 29, 2016

Parents have the right to raise their children according to their religious beliefs

A Hearing in the Council of Europe underlines the importance of parental rights in Education

Last Tuesday I had the privilege to participate in a roundtable discussion organised by ECPM and the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ) with the title: “The Rights of the Parents and Children belonging to Religious Minorities”. This Hearing was organised on the occasion of the discussion in the Council of Europe of a motion for a resolution on the "Protection of the rights of parents and children belonging to religious minorities". Other participants were MPs Ben-Oni Ardelean, Valeriu Ghilețchi, Jeffrey Donaldson, Titus Corlețean, Ronan Mullen and Grégor Puppinck. Bellow you can find the full text of my contribution. I would like to especially thank Jett Weigand-Timmer for the background information she provided.

The rights of the parents and children belonging to religious minorities

I would first like to congratulate the organizers of this roundtable for taking the initiative to discuss a very important issue that concerns millions of parents around the world. I am also truly grateful for giving me the opportunity to share a few thoughts with you about the “freedom of parents to educate and raise children according to their beliefs”. As we discuss this issue in the Council of Europe, the first think that comes to mind is resolution 1904 on the right to freedom of choice in education in Europe (4 October 2012). In this resolution, the Parliamentary Assembly points that “on the basis of the right to education, the right of choice in education should be understood. This right, which is intimately linked to freedom of conscience, is enshrined in Article 2 of the Protocol to the Convention for the Protection of Human rights and Fundamental Freedoms. It carries with it the obligation for all Council of Europe Member States in the exercise of their functions in the field of education and teaching, to “respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions”. 

In the Netherlands where I come from, everyone knows that our country rests on polders that are surrounded by rivers. These rivers are a source of wealth, because they make the soil very rich. But these rivers are also a threat, because they could flood in times of storm and rain. Ever since the medieval times, our ancestors have built dikes to protect their land. Sometimes, these dikes broke because the forces of nature were too strong. Then, the dikes had to be reinforced. But they always knew that they could not do this alone. They also had to rely on their neighbors to keep their stretch of the dike in a good condition. This was not easy as there quite a few differences within our country. The Christian community became divided after the reformation and we witnessed this split up in churches and local communities. For example, a catholic would not buy from a protestant or socialist butcher etc. However, the threat the rivers posed kept the people together. This is called the polder-model. In a nutshell, it means that even if you disagree, you have to work together to save the land. People were living side-by-side in separate communities, but respected each other. One group should not overrule each other; they should be interdependent

This is also the basis of the freedom of religion or belief: That people have the freedom to express or live their faith and being respected. This pragmatism and tolerance is evident in resolution 2036 about Tackling intolerance and discrimination in Europe with a special focus on ChristiansThis resolution adopts a practical approach in upholding freedom of religion, focusing on the reasonable accommodation that “allows all religious groups to live in harmony in the respect and acceptance of their diversity when applied with tolerance” (article 2).

 How did this translate itself in the freedom of education in the Netherlands? 

 In the 19th century, the Kingdom of the Netherlands got its first school laws. But not all parents agreed with the state schools that the government wanted. The constitution of 1848 declared the freedom to offer education. It meant that the private schools got the right to offer education but on their own expenses. Schools in the Netherlands are now equal, even financially. They receive the same funds from the Government as public schools. The majority of them are private. They have their own board and are not governed by the State. It looks like this is a good guarantee for the connection of values in schools and at home. All schools are publicly supervised, so financially and in quality there is no difference. Schools are different in worldview, religion and school-concept and parents are free to choose the schools according to their own beliefs, worldview and pedagogical opinion. The State should draft laws which protect family and contribute to its development. The State should also protect children, if family does not fulfill its obligations and rights according to the good of the children.

Schools should therefore be complementary to the family. They should never substitute it. It should be up to the family to tell the schools in which way it needs their help in the education of their children and not to the schools to impose to the family their vision and education. In the children’s education, schools and family should work together and not contradict each other. The work of the schools is a prolongation of the work of the family, they should be doing what the family cannot do. Therefore, I think the Dutch system is a beautiful system because it gives this freedom. I do not believe that anyone should impose their values on the society (like the secularists are trying to do).

Concluding these short remarks, I think that we should always guard the freedom of education so as to give parents the right to educate and raise their children according to their religious views and to empower also every minority in society with the freedom and the means to do so. In the system in the Netherlands, minorities have the freedom to found their schools according to their beliefs. As in the Netherlands, we all have to work together in this battle against the tide. In our societies, we all need to work together respecting the multi-religious and diverse backgrounds of different groups without ruling over the conscience of one another. 

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