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Article in the Current Debates section concerning the school topic for Belgium :

  • 2015 : Teaching/religious education : short commentary on Constitutional Court decision no. 34/2015 of 12 March 2015

Recently, the Constitutional Court was called upon to declare its stance on a preliminary question raised by the section for administrative disputes of the Council of State. Proceedings for annulment had been filed with the Council of State in respect of a decision made by a Brussels school which had refused to exempt a secondary school pupil from following lessons in religion and ethics. The issue was to establish whether “in so much as they did not imply a right for parents to be granted an exemption for their children from attending lessons in one of the recognised religions or in non-denominational ethics upon simple request requiring no other reasons to be given” (Constitutional Court, no. 34/2015 of 12 March 2015, preliminary question and procedure), Article 8 of the Law on the School Pact and Article 5 of the Decree of 31 March 1994 defining the neutrality of teaching in the French Community, were in conformity with Articles 10, 11 and 24 § 4 of the Constitution, possibly read in conjunction with Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights, with Article 2 of the first additional protocol and with Article 18 § 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

In its decision no. 34/2015 delivered on 12 March 2015, the Constitutional Court indicates that “the decree framework, such as it exists in the French Community, does not guarantee that lessons in religion and non-denominational ethics open to parental choice, as governed by the relevant provisions, disseminate information or knowledge that is at the same time ‘objective, critical and pluralistic’ in accordance with the above case law of the European Court of Human Rights” (B.6.5). According to the Constitutional Court, case law from the ECHR in Strasbourg indicates that “in order to ensure the right of parents that their children are not confronted with conflicts between religious or moral education provided by the school and the religious or ethical convictions of the parents, pupils must be able to be exempted from attending lessons in religion or ethics” (B.7.1.). Without considering it “necessary to concretely examine the contents of the course of non-denominational ethics” (B.6.1.) attended by the applicant, the Court came to the decision that the course in non-denominational ethics is a “non-objective” course (according to Christians and Berhoumi).

In other words, the Constitutional Court considers that the enrolment of a child in lessons of non-denominational ethics or religion implies, in both cases, a non-neutral choice. In order to conform to European Court of Human Rights case law, the Constitutional Court therefore considers that the French Community should be able to offer children the possibility of being exempted from courses in religion or ethics.

Decision no. 34/2015 means that reorganising lessons in religion and non-denominational ethics should figure among the priorities of the French Community. One means to conform with the judgment of the Constitutional Court could be to create a cross-curricular course on “citizenship”, which would be made compulsory for all pupils.

Some bibliographic highlights :
 CHRISTIANS, L.-L. et EL BERHOUMI, M., « De la neutralité perdue à l’exemption du cours de morale. Commentaire de l’arrêt 34/2015 de la Cour constitutionnelle », J.T., 2015, p. 441.
 DELGRANGE, X., « Le sort du cours de morale : activisme juridictionnel contre attentisme politique », note sous C. Const., 12 mars 2015, A.P.T., 2015, p. 253-266.
 OVERBEEKE, A., « De keuze voor levensbeschouwelijk onderricht in officiële scholen in de Franse Gemeenschap beoordeeld door het Grondwettelijk Hof », TORB, 2014-15, n° 4-5, p. 18-27.
 SCHREIBER J.-P., « Belgique : le cours de morale non-confessionnelle est-il neutre ? », 9 décembre 2015, site internet O-re-la.

D 5 juillet 2016    AStéphanie Wattier

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