Following a campaign by our Affiliate, the Atheist Union of Greece, a crucial hearing related to the human right of freedom of conscience was held before the plenary of the Council of State (Greece’s Supreme Administrative Court) today, Jan 15th. Vasilis Sotiropoulos, our affiliates’ and the families’ attorney, stated:
“… This case is, once again, about the exemption of students from the religious education course in the Greek high schools. Despite the condemnation of Greece from the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Papageorgiou et al. (2019), the State has not yet fully complied with its obligations. In addition’ it has not yet organized the “alternative equal course” that the exempted will be able to attend so that they will not be deprived of teaching hours.
In August 2020, the Deputy Minister of Education signed a circular in which parents must ask for exemption because of “religious conscience reasons”, while the Data Protection Authority has already, twice, ruled that an invocation of “conscience reasons” in general is sufficient. Specifically, “religious reasons” again reveals sensitive data (a special category of data) which schools are not allowed to keep, as noted by the ECtHR.
Further, the Ministry did not publish the decision in the Official Government Gazette according to the law, it did not even post it on the government’s transparency website, therefore, according to the established case law of the Council of State it is a NON-EXISTENT ACT! In other words, the distorted compliance of the country, among others, is also non-existent. According to any reasonable provision it is expected to be canceled by the Plenary Session of the Council of State, because some officials did not fulfill the duty of publishing the circular.
Things are getting tighter for the Ministry of Education. A lot. Had I been in their place, I would issue the correct circular today and I would publish it in the Official Government Gazette in order to invalidate the trial in the Plenary Session, as irrelevant.
Unfortunately I do not expect reflexes as such on a human rights case. …”
This trial comes after two earlier, successful trials and campaigns for which AAI provided crucial support. Both were applications for annulment of ministerial decisions related to:
1. The content of religious classes taught in Greek Schools and the process for children to be exempted. This trial resulted in both the Council of Europe (CoE) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) condemning the Greek State for the exemption process that it used to apply. The content of the class is still pending on the ECtHR.
2. Printing students’ religions on high school certificates. This also resulted in condemnation of the Greek State and termination of this practice. Since 2020 high school certificates no longer disclose students’ religious views.
The conclusion once again is that the Greek state and the current right-wing government is unwilling to proceed to the necessary secularisation reforms in Greek public schools despite orders from the Greek and European law.