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Tuesday, 4 December, 2001, 11:51 GMT
Should European countries have religious schools?
A religious secondary school in Auerbach in Germany is to close its doors next summer, after it was caught altering the state syllabus on sex education.

This has resonances in other parts of Europe. The world has watched the sectarian hatred in Northern Ireland as Catholics try to walk their children to school through Protestant areas. In Mostar, Hercegovina, schools are divided between Muslims and Croats.

In Britain the government is encouraging faith schools. The subject is being discussed in Madrid at a conference on education and freedom of religion.

Should European governments allow religious schools? Do they benefit children or are they socially divisive?

For this week's Europewide debate, Europe Today's Mark Reid brought together Christianne Mousson of the French National Committee for Secular Action, and first Akram Khan Cheema of the British Association of Muslim schools, who's an Inspector of State Schools.

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

Part of the curriculum should be the ideas and background to the various religions that exist

YS, UK (Dutch)
One of the comments that has been made is that people should have the freedom to choose what type of religious school their children go to. What is forgotten is that the child is therefore put into an environment, which it might not have chosen for itself. Therefore I think that any form of education that is compulsory should be taught in a school that has education in mind, not religion. In addition, part of the curriculum should be the ideas and background to the various religions that exist. Only this will, to a certain extent, give the child the opportunity to make its own choice eventually. That is freedom.
YS, UK (Dutch)

I went to a religious school and that was the best time of my life. I am not a separatist, nor a fundamentalist. In a free society, my right to practise my religion should be upheld, and If I want my children (whenever I do have them) to learn in a religious environment... well that is my right.
Donald, USA

Interesting question. I'd like to propose the following idea: as far as compulsory, state-financed education is concerned, I think it should be secular. I don't think the State should finance any religious education with the tax-payer's money. If parents want their children to get further religious education of their choice, that should be privately sponsored and it should happen outside regular school curricula. Keep religion out of the state and in the free choice of your homes. And indeed I think there's a big difference on this point between the two sides of the Atlantic. I'm just glad to live on this side.
Karl, Belgium

I believe in integration and not segregation, from the earliest age possible

Haakon, UK
Education should prepare children to live and work as responsible and moral adults, in the real world. The real world includes people of every religion. Workplaces are a mixture of Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews etc etc. I would not want my tax money funding schools which do not actively

promote mixing students of different cultural or religious backgrounds. And on the same level, I think the government or some other regulatory body needs to ensure a syllabus that is suitable for all, and encourages children to mix a lot more. In a sense, there are many adults who cannot be trusted to make the decision on how their own children should be educated well.

I'm currrently at University, one of the most diverse institutions possible. But I wouldn't dream of coming here if everyone belonged to the same religion! Even if it was what my parents wanted. I believe in integration and not segregation, from the earliest age possible.
Haakon, UK

In short, I don't support religious schools.
Radivojevic Srdjan, Yugoslavia

Faith-based schools are the natural antidote to the moral confusion bred by years of secular education

Anthony Faulkner, Switzerland
Faith-based schools are the natural antidote to the shallow materialism and moral confusion bred by years of secular education. The choice of how to bring up your children should be a basic democratic right, provided that such education can be seen to promote love and understanding for ALL God's creatures.
Anthony Faulkner, Switzerland

I think religious schools must be abolished. They're not necessary for the development of a child. In Belgium almost 75% of the children are going to religious schools; in Belgium they're called: 'Vrij onderwijs', which means 'free education'. With 'free' education they don't mean you can go there without paying something, they mean 'you can choose your own religion'. Very illogical! Indeed you can choose your own religion there, these are your possibilities: Catholicism, Catholicism and Catholicism. What's it gonna be? 'Catholicism'. OK boy, welcome on our 'free education' school!

I'm still a student, and I'm not going to a religion school, but an 'Atheneum', 'atheist school'. There you're really free to choose your religion. If you're the only one who's a Muslim they, specially for you, recruit a teacher of Islam. It costs you nothing! A lot of people in my school aren't religious: almost 87% of them follow 'Zedenleer', what means: 'morality'. We learn about the real religions, we can form our own 'religion', and you can talk about it during the lessons. I must say it's not so interesting, but the time we spend on morality, the others spend on Catholicism, Islam...

But all these schools are subsidised by the state, and we cost a lot of money. Much more that the religious schools in our country. And we're not so big: only 20% of all children goes to a state school, a real 'free-of-religion school'. And now I'll have to leave because the exams are almost here and tomorrow I have to go to my school: the 'Atheneum of Zaventem (near Brussels)', a mixed school of all religions and thoughts.
Jesse, Belgium

Children of all faiths should be educated together

RobP, UK
I grew up in the West of Scotland and went, with most of the neighbourhood kids, to the local primary school. Catholic children, on the other hand, went to a different school. This engendered an "us and them" attitude. A few of my neighbours were Catholic and I did play with their children but, by and large, Catholic and Protestant children kept to their own groups. I had my stupid misconceptions of them, and no doubt they had similar misconceptions of me. It wasn┐t until I was 18 and went to university that I got away from this social divide and saw Catholics as normal human beings - it sounds so ludicrous now.

I am opposed to faith schools. It is my belief that children of all faiths should be educated together and grow up together and that they should learn of each others' faiths together. My children go to Sunday School and there they learn additional things about their own religion - Christianity. I have visited a Sikh Temple with friends and have seen similar arrangements for teaching Sikh children.

Given that parents can educate their children in the family faith either in the home or by sending them to Sunday School, Sikh Temple, Synagogue or Mosque, I find it hard to understand the justification for keeping children apart from those of their peers whose parents happen to be of a different faith.
RobP, UK

We can see the result in society today that humanism causes. Lower and lower standards of morality under the guise of religious freedom. Less and lower boundaries, less and lower guidelines. When people make up their own rules, their sinful nature has unpleasant consequences. Which are all too plainly and painfully obvious. People are not God's, God is. Many, due to the sin in their lives, reject God and His perfect guidelines. The world is becoming a far more depraved and unsafe place due to the fact that more and more turn away from God - not because of God.

Children need the truth. They need to find out about God before they get corrupted. A free society should have the freedom to choose the type of school their children go to. There are consequences otherwise. Freedom of choice. Just as God gives the choice to follow Him or not. That has consequences also.
Steve Noakes, U.K.

Poor Stephen doesn't realise we're talking about Europe and not the U.S.! In Europe we have quite a different view on things, some would say enlightened. Perhaps Stephen simply forgot that most European countries are socialist? We don't consider it oppressive - quite the opposite!
European, Norway

Yes, they absolutely should be allowed. For the alternative, banning religious schools, that sounds very Soviet or Chinese Communist to me.
Stephen, USA

Carrie, USA, I have been to public schools in France. Public French schools are strictly atheist. (There is also a far smaller provision of private schools which are religious most of the time.) I was taught religions as part of history and philosophy lessons. According to you, I must be brainwashed, evil, stupid and selfish. I think I disagree. Religious upbringing should be the parents' responsibility, not the school's.
Pascal Jacquemain, UK (French)

Parents need an option to teach their children their beliefs and not let them be brainwashed into having a secular worldview. True, there should be a division between church and state, but that doesn't make religion a bad thing. Religion isn't the problem in our world - human evil and selfishness and stupidity are the problems. I'd say God's our only hope.
Carrie, USA

If we are not given the choice as to how and where we educate our children, what then is our freedom worth?

Chris, USA
It surprised me to see this question posted. Certainly, in the free world, religious schools should be permitted. After all, if we are not given the choice as to how and where we educate our children, what then is our freedom worth? Granted, this places greater responsibility on parents and permits the open teaching of often-contradictory beliefs. But I, for one, would have it no other way.
Chris, USA

Here in Australia, 30% of students go to non-government schools, the overwhelming majority of them affiliated with a particular religion. Australia does not have big problems with religious bigotry.

There are two main reasons why parents choose to send their children to religious schools. One is a perceived excellence in education that is attached to some schools. The other reason is that the schools promote a certain world view with which parents are comfortable. This should come as no surprise. State schools promote their own world view and not, as some might argue, no world view. Agnostic humanism is as much a world view as Islam or Catholicism. To insist that children be educated in a certain world view is reprehensible in a free society.
Bernard Jones, Australia

I believe that the emphasis upon personal growth in our societies is asymmetrical. Indeed, while we encourage individuals to foster their independent identities and while we offer them a wide vocabulary with which to pursue this development, our secular and even atheistic cultures often deprive individuals of the spiritual vocabulary essential to their emotional and intellectual maturity. We need to promote personal understanding, both secular and spiritual. Religious schools can play a constructive role in civil societies.
KPD, Canada

I don't have much sympathy for religious schools

Pieter Voogt, Netherlands
I don't have much sympathy for religious schools. But most important is to make certain education compulsory. If children learn first about evolution and the next hour they learn that a God created the world, at least that would give them some healthy confusion.
Pieter Voogt, Netherlands

It should be possible as we live in a free society, but I would rather my money was not spent on separating human beings by religion from an early age. Hopefully for children who are brought up to have a knowledge and respect for other religions, religious problems as in Northern Ireland may begin to become a thing of the past, like slavery.
Charlie, UK

I think religion in public schools should only come after, say, 16 years

Dumitru, Romania
I think that one should not mix a public-funded mandatory education system and special community-funded education, such as the religious one. The first should provide the general values a (multi-cultural) society is based on, while the latter teaches community-specific stuff, like Christian/ Jewish/ Muslim/ Hindu etc faith. Public funding may be granted for these specific schools, but it should be clear where the money is going. And the curriculum of the two kinds of schools should not overlap.

I also think that religion in public schools should only come after, say, 16 years, when the personality of the child is more or less formed. And it should come under the form of compared religion courses. I should say that I am of Christian faith, not an atheist, but in an open society there should be some specificity-free way of interaction..
Dumitru, Romania

Religious schools are a big mistake. Instead of attempting to indoctrinate people into a religion, all schools should cover the world's major religions in their curriculum. Such knowledge is the greatest weapon against fear and hate.
Roman Lajciak, Bratislava, Slovakia

Keep the schools and let our "world" grow

Peter Haahr, Denmark
The best thing for Europe would be to keep the religious schools, because Europe is a free continent where the citizens are free to have their own opinion and directions of life... The European continent is a multi cultural society with many different countries and cultures, by keeping the religious schools you will make the mind-set of the European even stronger because he is free to make up his own ideas and thoughts and develop a personality of integrity where he is, and then his comfort-zone will grow, so that he will face the "world" with even more boldness and frankness.

This may be the goal for Europe, to keep an international atmosphere where people are free to have their own thoughts of life. That will make Europe a better place to live and work. So keep the schools.... and let our "world" grow. So that we all can face a better world tomorrow! Keep the religious schools.
Peter Haahr, Denmark

Most religious schools are tolerant places, just like state-run schools. A few, however, are run by religious extremists seeking to indoctrinate children and young people with oppressive value systems, such as fear of human sexuality. Unfortunately, it is difficult to ban the latter sort of school without banning religious schools in general. Hence I believe all religious schools should be banned.
Simon, Australia

Some religious and moral education helps children grow up straight and well minded

John Oliver, Netherlands
I do not think religious schools preach separatism or indifference to people of other beliefs. Indeed, we need moral education for our children and if parents feel that religious schools should give this instruction, rather than the government, they deserve the right to have their children attend religious schools, no matter how few they may be.

People will always believe what they want to when they grow up. Some religious and moral education helps children grow up straight and well minded. Who knows what may happen if religious schools are taken away? Probably, tomorrow our places of worship would be converted to museums! Society needs some form of spirituality to remain sane. Religious schools need to continue existing.
John Oliver, Netherlands

I think religions and the religious leaders are the cancer of humankind. They just want to frighten the people to keep control of them. So, now, in AD 2001, no religious schools any more, please...
Gerry, France

Just don't use taxpayers' money for religious education

Manuel Valencia, USA
I had a similar experience as Victor from Holland, I was sent to a Catholic school as a child, only to become an atheist there. In any case, I do believe that in a pluralistic society, separating/ segregating children by religious beliefs only furthers the age-old problems of hatred and intolerance. Let children of all faiths and races mix and interact with each other so that we can break this vicious cycle of religious violence and, to a greater extent, favouritism that we are currently mired in. As for allowing religious schools, no problem, just don't use taxpayers' money for religious education. Let the fundamentalists pay for their own.
Manuel Valencia, USA

I went to a progressive Roman Catholic primary school and it certainly didn't make a religious zealot out of me. On the contrary, I became an atheist at age eight instead. I think state run schools should have religion in their curriculum without emphasising any particular one. If people want their children to attend a school which does emphasise religion, it should certainly be possible.
Victor D, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

If people want their children to attend a school which does emphasise religion it should certainly be possible

Victor D, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Schools built exclusively for the children of any single religious community must not be allowed in multicultural, multi-religious societies. Such schools will only produce separation along religious lines which does not augur well for pluralistic societies. From a very young age children should learn to play and learn with children from other religious backgrounds. Only such education will help to produce bonds of understanding among young people.
Minoy Mathew, India

Listen now both sides of the debate
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