Romania’s population is 86.5 per cent Orthodox, 4.6 per cent Roman-Catholic, 3.2 per cent Reformed, 1.9 per cent Pentecostal and 0.2 per cent atheist, according to the most recent census conducted in 2011. Being a country in which religious belief is extremely important, religion appeared in the school curriculum shortly after the Revolution, in 1990, after being banned during communism. Religion is taught in schools by teachers trained in Theology and who have received the Romanian Patriarchy’s approval to teach, while the textbooks have to be approved by the Romanian Patriarchy. The subject matter was mandatory, without anyone being asked whether he wants to learn about religious symbols or values, without there being a clear project in this sense, without the citizens being consulted on this extremely sensitive issue, advantage being taken of the vulnerability of this people for whom religion was forbidden in any form during communism. Parents did not dissent and took it as just another subject matter among many, one that is simply shoved down the throat of the children and that has to be thoroughly studied in order for them to have high average grades.
However, everything changed recently when a Romanian Constitutional Court (CCR) decision generated veritable shock among parents. “What?? Religion was not mandatory? We were not told this,” the parents stated in unison.
Basically, the CCR has declared unconstitutional Article 9, Paragraph 2 of Education Law number 84/1995, which stipulates: “At the written request of the parents or legal guardian, the pupil may skip religion classes.” The same happened to Article 18, Paragraph 2 of Education Law number 1/2011: “At the written request of the pupil of full age, of his parents or of the legal guardian of the underage pupil, the pupil may skip religion classes.” Thus, only those who expressly want to attend Religion courses have to file requests and this subject matter can no longer be mandatory in any school.
Even though nowhere was it stipulated that Religion is mandatory in schools, not even in the Romanian Constitution (according to Article 32, Paragraph 7: “The state ensures freedom of religious education, in line with the specific requirements of every denomination. In public schools religious education is organized and guaranteed by law”), it took the CCR’s reaction in order to lift the veil off the Romanians’ eyes, the latter thus finding out, many of them in shock, that they have yet another freedom: that of deciding whether they want to be religiously indoctrinated in schools or not.
All is well, but the real problem is not the presence of Religion in the pupils’ curriculum, but what exactly is taught by this subject matter. Because Roman-Catholic, Reformed, Pentecostal, Muslim or atheist parents impotently witness a sad reality: in religious education classes children are taught Orthodoxy. And, based on the system of submitting to the majority, nobody protested and took this reality for good, believing that this is normal, that this is what the law requires. However this state’s fundamental law does not stipulate the compulsory study of religion in schools, it stipulates only access to it. Not even what religion is to be studied. Unfortunately however, apart from laws and the general curriculum of this subject matter, the reality in schools is this: religion teachers are teaching pupils Orthodox values and symbols. Irrespective of their religion, pupils are asked to draw Orthodox symbols, to learn Orthodox prayers by heart, to make the sign of the cross and in some cases to believe in something other than what they are taught in their families. In profound contrast with the European trend in this domain. The trend in the West is to go from teaching a single confession, dogma, to teaching the history and philosophy of religions, as is natural, not to have indoctrination in a single religion by taking advantage of innocent minds.
Although Romania is not the only country where Religion is taught in school, pupils in most European states are studying the religions of the world or ethics, or, as in the French case, its teaching is completely forbidden in the classroom. It’s true that in countries such as Russia and Greece, Christian-Orthodox countries too, religion is mandatory, without the possibility of skipping it, however it is supposed Romania has a pro-European, Western tendency in which the values of democracy are, or should be, primordial.
Overall, religion is taught in 17 EU member states, but the idea of diversity and tolerance is supported; pupils study all religions of the world, and the curriculum is not favoring a certain dogma. Because such a class should not relate to teaching of a confessional, dogmatic nature, as unfortunately happens in Romania’s case, but should rather be a subject matter that has to do with world culture.
Likewise, in the United States religion can be taught in schools only in a non-confessional manner, from the point of view of its cultural or literary value, never in a devotional sense or a sense that would encourage accepting the Bible as a religious document.
Thus, the CCR decision that has stirred numerous reactions and that is shattering a system imposed by force since 1990 offers Romanians the confirmation that they are living in a democratic state, that they have the freedom to decide and, moreover, brings our country closer to the West, where the moral values of the individual, albeit a pupil, are respected, and the mainstay curriculum in the Religion class has to consist of respect toward the world’s religions.