With repeated reference to the "Orthodox Christian Conscience" and the need to protect it, the Council of State determined that the decision of the former Minister of Education, Nikos Filis, to institute changes in the way Religious Education is taught in both Primary School Grades 3-6 and High School is unconstitutional.
Article 13: Religious Freedom
1. Freedom of religious conscience is inviolable. The enjoyment of civil rights and liberties does not depend on the individual's religious beliefs.
2. All known religions shall be free and their rites of worship shall be performed unhindered and under the protection of the law. The practice of rites of worship is not allowed to offend public order or the good usages. Proselytism is prohibited.
The aim of these controversial changes was, according to the former minister and the Institute of Educational Policy, to end Religious Education amounting to a lesson in catechism. Under the proposed changes, the curriculum would not focus on one religion (as Dr. Sotiris Mitralexis has explained in his ThePressProject article "Next Course: Religious Education") but instead "become a course of religious studies, with emphasis on the particular presentation of the cultural role of Orthodoxy in our country".
At the heart of the judges' rationale are Articles 13 and 16 of the Constitution, which they allege are in conflict with the former minister's decisions, as these two articles ensure that the state is charged with teaching Orthodoxy to students in Greek schools.
The third point on which the judges based their decision is the first additional Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). According to the State Council, the Ministry of Education’s reforms violate the stipulations of the Protocol. Their interpretation rests on the following:
Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 – Right to education
No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.
2. Education constitutes a basic mission for the State and shall aim at the moral, intellectual, professional and physical training of Greeks, the development of national and religious consciousness and at their formation as free and responsible citizens.
All of this--in combination with the third article of the Hellenic Constitution, which declares that “The prevailing religion in Greece is that of the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ,” and the very fact that the Constitution is issued “In the name of the Holy and Consubstantial and Indivisible Trinity”--a declaration that appears even before any reference to the country’s political system--is enough (once again) to startle every progressive citizen, whether within or outside of the country’s borders.
In sum, it would be foolish to expect any other ruling from the Hellenic Council of State, especially when the Council’s president, Nikos Sakellariou, has received the honour of “Lord of the supreme tutelary of Christ’s Holy Church” from the Oecomenical Patriarchate.
The State Council may provoke, as it so often has done, disappointment and outrage at some of its decisions. It is, however, a court responsible for interpreting the Constitution, and on Tuesday the court came to its judgement on the basis of that document. The Constitution, on the other hand, is the result of political decisions made by those who govern.
In this particular case, the Tsipras administration so allegedly keen on its revision not only ousted the minister who attempted a minor reform to address a gaping wound in contemporary society, but even expected the State Council to pave the way for future progress. What foolishness, and indeed scandalous hypocrisy.
A minor detail: all that being said, one of the founding values of Europe and the modern West, freedom of religion, cannot simply be accommodated. Religious freedom does not appear out of nowhere; it has to be cultivated--as does hate, and fear of other religions and their adherents.
Have patience: sooner or later the 19th century will come to an end.