Another legal victory for parents who don’t want their kid to attend compulsory religious classes: an Istanbul court ruled that a child of atheist parents can skip the class. It’s not the first time. In 2007 the European Court for Human Rights ruled that a child with Alevi parents, (Alevism is an Islamic sect), cannot be obliged to follow the religious classes. Good news, but to be honest, I sometimes feel sad for the kids of these brave parents.
The religious classes, called ‘religious culture and ethics’, were introduced at the beginning of the nineteen eighties, after the military coup. They teach children only the theory and rituals of Sunni Islam, or more precisely the state version of Sunni Islam, as propagated by the state directorate for religious affairs, Diyanet. For children of Alevi or atheist parents, or parents of any background other than state Sunni Islam, the information taught in the classes is not relevant.
A court can rule that some children can’t be forced to follow these classes, but at the same time these classes have the effect of making kids think that everybody in Turkey has the same religious belief. So if one kid in the class is the exception and can skip the class by court order, he is placed out of his peer group. Not always of course, but I recently spoke to the lawyer who filed the case for the Alevi family at the European Court in 2007, and he said Alevi kids are often ridiculed at school by their classmates, and even by their teachers. Many Alevi kids hide their religion to avoid being the exception, or the butt of ridicule in class.
So maybe the solution is not that children of beliefs other than Sunni State Islam get permission to not attend these religious classes. I think the solution would be to abolish the classes all together, and replace them with classes on comparative religion. That way, understanding and respect can be built for every belief (or non-belief) existing. That would save court cases, but especially a whole lot of unhappy kids.