COE Monitoring: Execution of the Zengin Judgment

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Case description: Refusal by state authorities to exempt a state school pupil, whose family was of the Alevi faith, from mandatory lessons on religion and morals in the context of a syllabus for religious instruction which failed to meet the requirements of objectivity and pluralism and to ensure respect for parents' convictions, and absence of any clear text or appropriate mechanism providing for the possibility of exemption from the classes in question (violation of Art. 2, Protocol No.2).

Status of execution: General measures: According to the information provided by the authorities, a number of workshops were organized under the auspices of the relevant Ministry of State between June 2009 and January 2010 with the participation of scholars, theologians and leaders of the Alewite community. The necessity to re-design the curriculum of the course was established in order to solve the problems. A commission composed of scholars and eminent Alwite intellectuals was founded in the Ministry of the Education, in order to specify the subjects related to the Alewite belief which should take place in the text books and in the curriculum.
On 28/02/2011, the authorities provided a CD concerning the change in the curriculum of the lessons on religious culture and morals to be followed in 2011-2012 school year.
The information submitted by the Turkish authorities is under assessment.

Last exam of the Committee of Ministers:

1448/04 Zengin Hasan and Eylem, judgment of 09/10/2007, final on 09/01/2008
The case concerns the refusal of the authorities to exempt a state school pupil, whose family was of the Alevi faith, from mandatory lessons on religion and morals (violation of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1.)

The applicants, Hasan Zengin and his daughter Eylem Zengin are followers of Alevism, a branch of Islam which has deep roots in Turkish society and history. Its religious practices differ from those of the Sunni schools in certain aspects such as prayer, fasting and pilgrimage. At the time the application was lodged, Eylem Zengin was a seventh grade pupil at a state school, and as such, she was obliged to attend classes in religious culture and ethics, which are compulsory subjects for Turkish primary and secondary schools under Article 24 of the Turkish Constitution and Article 12 of National Education Law No. 1739.
In 2001, Mr Zengin submitted requests to the Directorate of National Education and before the administrative courts for his daughter to be exempted from these lessons, pointing out in particular that no teaching was provided in those classes on his daughter’s faith. The requests for exemption were dismissed, most recently on appeal before the Supreme Administrative Court in April 2003.

In the course of the proceedings, the European Court examined the Ministry of Education’s guidelines for lessons in religious culture and ethics and the relevant school textbooks. This examination revealed that the syllabus in primary schools and the first cycle of secondary school as well as textbooks gave greater priority to knowledge of Islam than to that of other religions and philosophies. Although the Court explained that this in itself could not be viewed as indoctrination, it was appropriate to examine whether the information or knowledge was disseminated in an objective, critical and pluralist manner, given that attendance at these classes was likely to influence the minds of young children. The Court established that the Alevi faith had features distinct from the Sunni understanding of Islam which was taught in schools. In the “religious culture and morals” lessons, the religious diversity which prevailed in Turkish society was not taken into account. In particular, pupils received no teaching on the confessional or ritual specificities of the Alevi faith, although the proportion of the Turkish population belonging to it was very large. Certain information about the Alevis was taught in the 9th grade, but, in the absence of instruction in the basic elements of this faith in primary and secondary school, this was insufficient to compensate for the shortcomings in the teaching. Accordingly, the instruction provided in these classes could not be considered to meet the criteria of objectivity and pluralism, enabling pupils to develop a critical mind with regard to religious matters, nor to respect the religious and philosophical convictions of the parent of a pupil who belonged to the Alevi faith, on the subject of which the syllabus was clearly lacking.

The Court further examined whether appropriate means existed in the Turkish education system to ensure respect for parents’ convictions. The class in question was a compulsory subject, but a possibility for exemption had existed since 1990 for children of Turkish nationality whose parents belonged to the Christian or Jewish religion, provided they affirmed their adherence to one of those religions. According to the government, this possibility for exemption could be extended to other convictions if such a request was submitted. Nonetheless, whatever the scope of this exemption, the fact that parents were obliged to inform the school authorities of their religious or philosophical convictions made this an inappropriate means of ensuring respect for their freedom of conviction. In the absence of any clear text, the school authorities always had the option of refusing such requests. In consequence, the exemption procedure was not an appropriate method and did not provide sufficient protection to those parents who could legitimately consider that the subject taught was likely to give rise in their children to a conflict of allegiance between the school and their own values. No possibility for an appropriate choice had been envisaged for the children of parents who had a religious or philosophical conviction other than that of Sunni Islam, where the procedure for exemption was likely to subject those parents to a heavy burden and to the necessity of disclosing their religious or philosophical convictions.

Individual measures: Ms Zengin is now of college age and no longer attends a state secondary school.
Assessment: under these circumstances, no further individual measure seems necessary.

General measures: The Court concluded that, with regard to religious instruction, by failing to meet the requirements of objectivity and pluralism and to provide an appropriate method for ensuring respect for parents’ convictions, the Turkish educational system was inadequate. The violation found originated in a problem related to implementation of the syllabus for religious instruction in Turkey and the absence of appropriate methods for ensuring respect for parents’ convictions. In consequence, the Court considered that bringing the Turkish educational system and domestic legislation into conformity with Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 would represent an appropriate form of compensation.

The Turkish authorities are invited to present an action plan for the execution of this judgment, taking into account the European Court’s specific indication of an appropriate general measure. However, neither an action plan nor an action report has yet been provided by the authorities.
Publication and dissemination of the European Court’s judgment to the relevant authorities are also expected, so as to draw their attention to their Convention requirements as they arise from the judgment.

Noting that no information has been provided in this case, the Deputies once more invited the authorities to transmit an action plan / action report for the implementation of this judgment and decided to resume consideration at their 1108th meeting (March 2011) (DH).

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