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La religion dans l’enseignement public

The historical and juridical context of religious education in Portugal

Even though the foundation of the nation was linked to the year 1143, with the Treaty of Zamora, the recognition of its independence from Spain by the Catholic Church would only occur in 1179 by Pope Innocent II, a legitimacy under the guarantee of the Portuguese King’s vassalage to the Pope. Unquestionably this relationship of political power with the Church solidified the affirmation of national independence and the country’s frontiers. Nevertheless, it is necessary to state that this influence did not remedy only the political fragility of a new kingdom, but it also enabled the Church’s participation as an education and development agent in the country.

The relationship with the Apostolic Roman Catholic Church : Catholic RME

In the 18th century the Company of Jesus held 30 schools dispersed throughout the main cities in the country. With 20 thousand students in that period, it was considered as a National Network of Education. Not to mention the many churches that had schools rather important in training the local population.

The separation of State and Religion. 1910 to the 1st Republic

The year of 1910 is a historical milestone in the relationship between Religion and Education in Portugal. After eight centuries of complicity, the Law of Separation of State and Church proclaimed confessionality to the state. The 1st Republic not only retracted the title of State Religion from the Catholic Church, but it would also affirm the neutrality of state thus abolishing religious education in schools. It was more than anti-clerical legislation as this period was marked by the extortion of goods from the church, including some educational establishments. The education framework is a corollary of the spirit of the time, a decree that would sustain the laws about the expulsion of the Company of Jesus – the main religious order concerning education in Portugal (Cf. SILVA, p.12-14).

The New State : a new agreement

With the end of the 1st Republic, in 1926, the New State restored the Catholic Church’s legal condition before the State and the right to religious education in public schools. Notwithstanding, only with the Constitution in 1933 would the Law of Separation be revoked, and not without controversy. In 1935, the importance of religious education in schools was recognized as a contribution to moral and civic training. Yet, the law assured that such virtues should be guided by the country’s traditional Christian morals and doctrine. The diploma that affirmed the separation of Church and State also recognized the Catholic Church as the Nation’s traditional religion. The freedom of education that the Constitution of 1933 guaranteed would also extend to the right in establishing private schools. (Cf. Silva 18-22).
If on the one hand the Concordat of 1940 definitely marked the independence of the State in relation to the Church, it also established an agreement that conferred the Catholic Church the duty of assuring social cohesion through its educational mission. On the other, religious education now becomes optional replacing its compulsoriness until then.

The democracy promotes cooperation

In 1974, a military revolution put an end to the dictatorial regime in force. Certain sporadic tensions emerged in that revolutionary spirit, namely attempts to occupy catholic schools. After the most turbulent initial period, the crisis led to normality and in 1976 the Constitution of the Republic kept the Concordat of 1940 and only introduced freedom to education for any religion. This document, where the State recognized the obligation of cooperating with families in the education of their children, fortified the right for parents in relation to the choice of their children’s religious and moral education. (Cf. SILVA p 40) It was undeniably explicit, once again, about the separation between State and Church, and it emphasized the State’s obligation in promoting the presence and integration of religious education in public schools, which would naturally be under the responsibility of the respective confessions. (Cf. SILVA p.42)

With the reform of the Basic Law of the Educational System, in 1986, catholic religious education lost its optional nature and assumed a more alternative one in religious and moral training. For the first time other subjects are integrated with the growing concerns of the student’s whole development. In addition to RME, the subject of Social and Personal Development is attempted by the state to promote the ethical conscience of its citizens, and this in the framework of a plurality open to the participation of all religions. (Cf. Silva p 45)

The revision of the Concordat of 1940, in 2004, following the defense of the non-confessionality of the State and the affirmation of religious freedom, elucidated and concluded that the subject of Catholic RME as well as its teachers should not be the target of discriminatory treatment. That is, teachers should not be placed under the jurisdiction of the new religious freedom Law.

The tardy integration of protestants : The foundation of COMACEP – Commission for the Educative Evangelical Action in Public Schools

Founded in 1988, this Department for the Portuguese Evangelical Alliance is responsible for the implementation and viability of the subject : Moral Education and Evangelical Religion, in public schools – from primary school to the 12th grade. The contribution of COMACEP in the education of values and citizenship has as a paradigm the persona and identity of Jesus Christ in the perspective of evangelical Christian values. In the Ministry of Education the programs are approved by the respective ministry with the possibility of being taught optionally or within the curricular regime. Beginning its work only in the 1990/1991 academic year with four groups in four public education establishments, the results from the 2007/2008 academic year reveal a significant growth : 236 schools with 285 groups, 161 teachers for 1,707 enrolled students.

For further information see André Folque, « Religion in public Portuguese education » in Gerhard Robbers (Hrsg.), Religion in Public Education – La religion dans l’éducation publique, European Consortium for Church and State Research, Trier, 2011, 399-424.

D 28 septembre 2012    ASimo Daniel Fonseca da Silva

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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