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Atheist Union of Greece’s complaint upheld

Themis mythical Greek Goddess of justice

Greece’s independent Data Protection Authority (HDPA) ruled that keeping records of, and demanding declaration of the religious views of students violate the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) of the EU, the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. HDPA said it is also illegal to record their nationality.

The decision, made public on Wednesday Sept 4, 2019, follows complaints by an AAI affiliate (Atheist Union of Greece) and the Hellenic League for Human Rights (HLHR).  The complaints (originally made in July 2017 by AUG) had targeted the listing of students’ religious views on end-of-school certificates, on an internal Ministry of Education portal (mySchool) and on declarations non-Christian Orthodox parents must sign to exempt their children from religious classes.

The ruling by the Data Protection Authority is a legally binding administrative act, which means that the government has to comply with it.
More related rulings are expected (both AAI campaigns) about:

  • Printing students’ religious views on school certificates is challenged in the country’s higher administrative court, the Council of State.
  • The curriculum of the religious class in order to be exempt from which, parents have to reveal their children’s religious views, is challenged both in the Council of State as well as in the European Court of Human Rights. It is worth noting that, while investigating the appeal, the ECtHR, consistent with case law, used the wording that “every subject taught in a member state’s education system, including religious studies, must convey information and knowledge in an objective, critical and pluralistic way”.

Following misinformative reports, the AUG issued a press release describing the case accurately from legal, constitutional and rights law perspectives. It also updated its guidelines to students and parents for the, now simpler, process of exemption from the religious class.

In a recent statement (Sept 17), confirming the legally binding nature of the HDPA ruling, the Minister of Education and Religious Affairs announced that the Ministry has begun making the necessary adjustments and modifications so that it will comply with the religious views recording part. However, the HDPA ruling also concerns the procedure for exemption from the confessional religious class, something that was not mentioned.

Given the confusion that prevailed, the ministry has to introduce a new compliant procedure, inform the public, parents and students, and provide a new comfortable deadline for exemptions instead of the very restrictive previous one (20 days from the beginning of the school year).

AUG will continue monitoring for further developments.

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