The Parliamentary Assembly forcefully reaffirms that each persons
religion, including the option of having no religion, is a strictly
personal matter. However, this is not inconsistent with the view that
a good general knowledge of religions and the resulting sense of tolerance
are essential to the exercise of democratic citizenship.
In its Recommendation 1396 (1999) on religion and democracy, the Assembly
asserted: There is a religious aspect to many of the problems
that contemporary society faces, such as intolerant fundamentalist
movements and terrorist acts, racism and xenophobia, and ethnic conflicts.
family has a paramount role in the upbringing of children, including
in the choice of a religious upbringing. However, knowledge of
religions is dying out in many families. More and more young people
lack the necessary bearings fully to apprehend the societies in which
they live and others with which they are confronted.
The media printed and audiovisual can have a highly positive
informative role. Some, however, especially among those aimed at the
wider public, very often display a regrettable ignorance of religions,
as shown for instance by the frequent unwarranted parallels drawn between
Islam and certain fundamentalist and radical movements.
Politics and religion should be kept apart. However, democracy and
religion should not be incompatible. In fact they should be valid partners
in efforts for the common good. By tackling societal problems, the
public authorities can eliminate many of the situations which can lead
to religious extremism.
Education is essential for combating ignorance, stereotypes and misunderstanding
of religions. Governments should also do more to guarantee freedom
of conscience and of religious expression, to foster education on religions,
to encourage dialogue with and between religions and to promote the
cultural and social expression of religions.
School is a major component of education, of forming a critical spirit
in future citizens and therefore of intercultural dialogue. It lays
the foundations for tolerant behaviour, founded
on respect for the dignity of each human being.
By teaching children the history and philosophy of the main religions
with restraint and objectivity and with respect for the values of the
European Convention on Human Rights, it will effectively combat fanaticism.
Understanding the history of political conflicts in the name of religion
Knowledge of religions is an integral part of knowledge of the history
of mankind and civilisations. It is altogether distinct from belief
in a specific religion and its observance. Even countries where one
religion predominates should teach about the origins of all religions
rather than favour a single one or encourage proselytising.
In Europe, there are various concurrent situations. Education systems
generally and especially the state schools in so-called secular
countries are not devoting enough resources to teaching about
religions, or particularly in countries where there is a state
religion and in denominational schools are focusing on only
one religion. Some countries have prohibited the carrying or wearing
of religious symbols in schools. These
provisions have been judged as complying with the European Convention
on Human Rights.
Unfortunately, all over Europe there is a shortage of teachers qualified
to give comparative instruction in the different religions, so a European
teacher training institute for that needs to be set up (at least for
teacher trainers), which
could benefit from the experience of a number of institutes and faculties
in the different member countries that have long been researching and
teaching the subject of comparative religion.
The Council of Europe assigns a key role to education in the construction
of a democratic society, but study of religions in schools has not
yet received special attention.
The Assembly observes moreover that the three monotheistic religions
of the Book have common origins (Abraham) and share many values with
other religions, and that the values upheld by the Council of Europe
stem from these values.
Accordingly, the Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers:
examine the possible approaches to teaching about religions at primary
and secondary levels, for example through basic modules which would
subsequently be adapted to the various educational systems;
promote initial and in-service teacher training in religious studies
respecting the principles set out in the previous paragraphs;
envisage setting up a European teacher training institute for the comparative
study of religions.
The Assembly also recommends that the Committee of Ministers encourage
the governments of member states to ensure that religious studies are
taught at the primary and secondary levels of state education, on the
basis of the following criteria in particular:
the aim of this education should be to make pupils discover the religions
practised in their own and neighbouring countries, to make them perceive
that everyone has the same right to believe that their religion is
the true faith and that other people are not different
human beings through having a different religion or not having a religion
it should include, with complete impartiality, the history of the main
religions, as well as the option of having no religion;
it should provide young people with educational tools that enable them
to be quite secure in approaching supporters of a fanatical religious
it must not overstep the borderline between the realms of culture and
worship, even where a country with a state religion is concerned. It
is not a matter of instilling a faith but of making young people understand
why religions are sources of faith for millions;
teachers on religions need to have specific training. They should be
teachers of a cultural or literary discipline. However, specialists
in another discipline could be made responsible for this education;
the state authorities should look after teacher training and lay down
the syllabuses which should be adapted to each countrys peculiarities
and to the pupils ages. In devising these programmes, the Council
of Europe will consult all partners concerned, including representatives
of the religious faiths.
Assembly debate on
4 October 2005 (27th Sitting) (see Doc.
10673, report of the Committee
on Culture, Science and Education, rapporteur: Mr Schneider).
Text adopted by the Assembly on 4 October 2005 (27th Sitting).