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Religious education in public schools in Romania: historical background

In Romania, religion was only taught by the Church, the priests and the precentor until 1864 after the promulgation of the first Romanian law on modern education. This new law meant a loss of (...)

In Romania, religion was only taught by the Church, the priests and the precentor until 1864 after the promulgation of the first Romanian law on modern education. This new law meant a loss of traditional monopoly that the Church enjoyed as the teaching was done under the aegis of the State. However, this historical moment did not mean ecclesiastic institutions losing their influence on education and the society in general. This law, which was one of the progressive laws of the time, offered free and mandatory education for all children aged between eight and twelve. It included religion as one of the subjects to be taught from primary school up to the secondary school.
The situation remained this way until 1948 when the Decree no. 175/1948, promulgated after the establishment of the communist State, abolished religion from the school programme and suspended denominational schools.
It was only in 1989 that religion was reintroduced in the Romanian public education. It was optional depending on the denomination and nonobligatory depending on the choice of the parents.

Religion in schools before 1864

Religious knowledge in Romanian public Schools has a long tradition dating back to the period before 1864. In this regard, one of the most appreciated priests and contemporary Romanian theologians wrote, "religious education was ever present in the lives of Romanian people. Even when the service was held in a foreign language the homily and the confession were done in the language of the people." (Constantin Galeriu, "Ora de religie în trecut şi astăzi", in Altarul Banatului, no. 4-6, 1995, p. 162). Religion was taught in the "exonarthex of the church" by the priest or the precentor using the religious manuals, especially of the 15th-16th Century which have been translated into Romanian, The collection of homilies of Metropolitan Verlaam, The Life of Saints translated by the Metropolitan Dosoftei, the translations of the deacon Coresi, the Octeochos of Antim Ivireanul. Furthermore, as attested by the term dascăl which, in Romanian, means the precentor (degree of the junior clergy) or teacher, the very profession of instructor is originally ecclesiastical.

Religion in schools between 1864 and 1948

The union of Romanian principalities during the reign of Alexandru Ioan Cuza marked the beginning of the era of a radical change in politics, economy and culture of the people in the attempt to create the modern Romanian State. The educational reformation was achieved through the promulgation of law no: 1150 / 1864 concerning the education in the united principalities. It was published in the Monitorul Oficial of 25 November 1864. This law, which constituted for more than three decades the foundation of the Romanian education, was one of the most progressive laws of the time. In Romania the law was published six years before it was published in the Great Britain (1870), ten years before Switzerland (1874), fifteen years before Bulgaria (1879), and eighteen years before Serbia and France (1882). Article 31 of this law provides that "primary education be mandatory and free for all children between eight and twelve years of age".
According to this law, the children had to attend religious services on Sundays and during the feasts accompanied by their instructor (Article 73). According to Article 32, catechism was taught in primary schools while Article 116 was for the teaching of religion in the gymnastics and in high schools. Article 74 gave the priest the responsibility of teaching religion to children belonging to his parish and while Article 40 ordered that the priest, at the beginning of every year, present a list of eight year old children to the instructor (Legi ale învăţământului din România, 1864-1978, Institutul de Ştiinţe ale Educaţiei, Bucureşti, 1991, t. 1, p. 27-72). The academic calendar was influenced by the calendar of the Orthodox Church. There were no classes on Sundays and on feast days. There were two school holidays fixed during the period of the two big Christian feasts Easter and Christmas. Religion instructors were mostly priests who had obtained qualifications in theological institutions or in seminaries.
At first, children belonging to other denominations other than the Orthodox faith were taught at home.L ater on, in conformity with the law on primary education published on 26 July 1924, religion was taught at school, by the personnel of the denomination in question as a special programme. The job was unpaid and was done with the agreement of the Ministry (Article 61).
The 1925 law on private education prescribed the conditions under which children belonging to the Jewish and Muslim religions should be taught. According to Article 75, this only concerned schools belonging to these religions ("religious asylum") which in turn appointed teachers. This was done with the preliminary approval of the Ministry of Religion and Education. In conformity with Article 78, Romanian had to be the language of instruction for at least one hour per day while Article 80 forbade children belonging to other religions to frequent these institutions. Article 187.1 promulgated in 1939 was for organisation of primary education and forbade teachers from engaging in any antireligious, antipatriotic and antinational actions.

School and religion between 1948 and 1989

This long tradition of religious omnipresence which saw religion as a mandatory discipline in the Romanian educational system was brutally and painfully interrupted by the communist regime in 1948. This regime wanted to subjugate the Church to the political system and dispel it from the political arena. Article 1 promulgated on 3 August 1948 provided that public education be a democratic, popular, realistic and scientific phenomenon since it had been secularised while Article 35 ordered that confessional schools be abolished and that religion be eliminated from the syllabus.
Article 36 provided that "private and confessional school teachers be integrated into the public system" and Article 37 stipulated that those who, by any means, would try to hinder the implementation of Article 35 risked 5 to 10 years of hard labour and confiscation of all their assets. The decree published on 4 August 1948 ordered that the ecclesiastical property be nationalised and be well guarded.
The Ministry of Education of the same year ordered that icons be desecrated and be removed from schools.
Furthermore, in conformity with atheist norms, any mention of religion in other subjects was strictly forbidden and considered a punishable offence. Libraries and book shops were stripped of undesirable books and all foreign schools including, confessional schools were closed.
Article 1 of the Socialist Romanian law on education published on 13 May 1968 provided that education be considered"as a tool for teaching dialectic materialist conception on nature and the society". As for Article 3, it declared "education in the Socialist Republic of Romania as public since school was separated from the Church. However, religions and religious organisation could establish and retain special schools for the formation of the clergy."

After December 1989

After major changes in the political, economic and cultural sectors which implied a transition towards a democratic regime, the reintroduction of religion in public schools and the revival of the ancient tradition with new aspects dictated by the local and international context became a vital necessity. Article 4.2 and Article 29.1 of the Constitution of Romania recognise and guarantee all citizens freedom of conscience"regardless of race, nationality, ethnic origins, language, religion and sex". Article 29.1, also guarantees freedom of thought and speech as well as freedom of religion. Another provision aims at giving the parents and rightful tutors the right to instruct minors under their responsibility according to the rules of the religion (Article 29.6).
Another affirms that the State guarantees the freedom to teach religious knowledge according to the rules of each religion and in public schools, religious knowledge was organised and guaranteed by the law (Article 32.7). In 1990, the Ministry of Education and Science released Order no: 15052/1990 indicating that religion could be taught one hour in a fortnight as an optional and non-obligatory subject in primary and secondary schools. The following year, the Ministry of Education and Science decided that religion would be taught one hour per week (Order no: 9176/01.02.1991). Since 1993, this discipline is no longer called "religious knowledge" but "religion" (Order no: 10306/17.08.1993).
In 1995, new measures were taken concerning the teaching of religious education in schools: religion was compulsory in primary schools, optional in the gymnasium and auditable in high schools and vocational schools (law on education, no: 84/1995).
In 1999, the Romanian Orthodox Church demanded that the law on religious education in public schools be modified in order to avoid some ambiguities inherent to it. It therefore became an academic discipline and part of the common syllabus in the primary, secondary and vocational school programmes. According to the modified law no: 84/1995, a student may, in consultation with the parent or tutor, choose to attend or not take the religious course at school.
During the academic year 2003-2004, 10,514 teachers were employed in the Romanian educational sector. 2, 987 were full time teachers while 7,527 were substitutes of whom 2,670 were confirmed as teachers. 783 possessed the 2nd didactic degree while 165 possessed the 1st didactic degree (Source: Secretariat of State for Religion, Directorate of Education and Social Assistance).
Law no. 489/2006 on Freedom of Religion and the General Status of Denominations reworks, develops and defines the conditions for organising the teaching of religion in schools. It formalises access for all recognised religions to organise the teaching of religion in state schools. It enshrines the principle of double dependence of teachers of religion vis-à-vis the Ministry of Education and the faith that they “represent”. Teachers are appointed with the consent of the religion in question, which may withdraw its consent in the event of serious violations of teaching practices or of the moral doctrine of the faith; without the agreement of the faith concerned, they can no longer teach religion in state schools (Article 32).
Recognised religions can organise courses in theology (not limited to the training of ministers of religion) at university or pre-university level as part of state education: they determine the curricula (which must also be approved by the Ministry of Education or, as appropriate, by the university senates) and the agreement of the religion is necessary for the accreditation of teaching staff (art. 33-35).
For the first time, the 2006 law established a legal framework for organising private denominational education at all levels - also allowing state funding for these denominational educational institutions (Article 38) - and establishes the right of faiths to organise this religious education in accordance with their statutes and canons.
This last principle is integrated more precisely into the new National Education Law (no.1 of 5 January 2011, art. 3s). It extends the principle of state neutrality to all religions and beliefs within the school context.

For further information, see the article "Religion and public education in Romania" of Emanuel P. Tăvală in Gerhard Robbers (Hrsg.), Religion in Public Education – La religion dans l’éducation publique, European Consortium for Church and State Research, Trier, 2011, 425-442.
See also the 2015 and 2016 Current debates.

D 2 October 2012    AIuliana Conovici ALaurenţiu Tănase AManuela Gheorghe

Decision no. 669/2014 by the Constitutional Court of Romania

The decision of 12 November 2014 by the Constitutional Court of Romania has reignited debates on the status of the hour of religion in state schools. In its decision no. 669/2014 (in Romanian), (...)

The decision of 12 November 2014 by the Constitutional Court of Romania has reignited debates on the status of the hour of religion in state schools. In its decision no. 669/2014 (in Romanian), the Court acknowledged that art. 18 para. 2, the first sentence of the Law on National Education no. 1/2011, was unconstitutional: “At the written request respectively of the pupil of adult age, of the parents or the legally appointed guardian for a minor, the pupil may be exempted from attending religious education classes”. This article obliges pupils who do not want to follow religious education classes, which are compulsory in Romania and part of the common core, to submit a written request to this end.
In its reasoning published in the Official Journal of 23.01.2015, the Constitutional Court judges specify that the way in which lawmakers have regulated the educational provision with regard to the subject of religion is likely to impact freedom of conscience. They suggest that the written request is to be submitted by those wishing to follow courses in religion and not by those who intend to opt out of such courses: “Expressions of opinion in the light of the constitutional provisions relating to freedom of conscience and religion applicable in the area of religious education must always be framed positively (a person chooses to study the religion) and not negatively (a person chooses not to study the religion), because in the latter case, the person is already regarded as expressing their choice to study and is being forced to act later in order to be excluded from the study group. In this way, such a regulation constrains the person to express an option, something which is in itself contrary to the freedom of conscience sanctioned by the Constitution”.
In order to reconcile the Law on National Education with Decision no. 669/2014 by the Constitutional Court, on 18 May 2015 the Senate (decision-making chamber) amended art. 18, para. 2 as follows: “To sign up a pupil for religious education classes, a written request must be submitted from, respectively, the pupil of adult age, their parent(s) or legally appointed guardian for pupils who are minors. Modifying this option is also possible by written request from, respectively, the pupil of adult age, their parent(s) or legally appointed guardian for pupils who are minors. If the pupil does not take part in religious education classes, school results will not take into account the subject of religious studies. The same applies to the pupil who, for objective reasons, has not been able to attend religious education classes”. This most recent version of the above-mentioned article was promulgated by the President of Romania and published in the Official Journal on 22 June 2015.
The decision by the Constitutional Court on the registration procedure for religious education classes has opened up a debate on the most controversial aspect of the law on education: the compulsory or optional nature of this discipline.
Additionally, religious education is included in the common core, which gives it a compulsory nature. Religious instruction is therefore guaranteed in constitutional law, in accordance with each person’s religion. In addition, the discipline of religion includes specific denominational elements - dogmatic, catechism etc., which means that it cannot be imposed, because that would violate another constitutional law, i.e. Article 29 of the Constitution of Romania, which stipulates that “no-one can be forced to adopt an opinion or to adhere to a religion contrary to their beliefs”.
The judges of the Constitutional Court have interpreted the compulsory nature of this discipline as being directed at the state, and not at pupils or parents, who have the right to choose if they will study religion or not, and if so, which religion they will study. Belonging to the common core does not mean that classes in religion are compulsory for all pupils, but it must necessarily be part of the educational provision of the school. In the Court’s reasoning the following text appears: “The compulsory nature of religion, like a school subject belonging to the common core, cannot be enforced on pupils, because it was introduced to fulfil the constitutional requirements mentioned above, with the state fulfilling the obligation to include the subject in the teaching curriculum. Consequently, the compulsory nature of the subject of religion is enforceable only upon the state which is bound by the need to organise religious instruction through providing religious education in the 18 recognised religions”.
As a result and from a theoretical point of view, religious education is assuming a less compulsory character for pupils. In practice, this demarcation remains uncertain because of the ambiguities of Article 18, para. 2 of the recently amended Law on National Education. First of all, the new form taken by the law does not envisage for how long registration is valid: for one year, one teaching cycle or an undetermined period. Then, the law does not envisage when requests for opting out of religious studies become applicable: at any moment of the school year or with effect from the following school year. Lastly, to opt out of religious studies, pupils must make a written request, so we find ourselves exactly in the situation preceding the Constitutional Court decision.
The compulsory or optional character of classes in religion impacts not only pupils, but also teachers of religion. At present in Romania, approximately 6,000 teachers are teaching religion; in the current economic climate, they no longer have guaranteed jobs.
However, more than 90% of pupils have submitted requests to register for religious education classes. These requests were made between 23.01.2015 and 06.03.2015 (all decisions by the Constitutional Court must be implemented within 45 days of publication in the Official Journal) and they are also valid for the school year 2015-2016.
By taking account of this percentage, it could be considered that the legislative amendments with regard to courses of religion have not currently been translated into the reality of school life and Romanian society in general. This change of vision on the role of the religion in teaching pupils could, however, have profound effects over the long term.

D 25 August 2015    AGabriel Birsan

New procedures for enrolling in religious courses

Further to Constitutional Court Ruling No. 669/2014, parents who wanted their children to study religion were required to enrol them in the course at the beginning of each year. From 2019, the (...)

Further to Constitutional Court Ruling No. 669/2014, parents who wanted their children to study religion were required to enrol them in the course at the beginning of each year. From 2019, the requirement for annual enrolment will be abolished. Enrolment in the religion classes for students choosing to follow this subject will be valid once and for all throughout the schooling period, unless this choice is changed. In concrete terms, parents will no longer be asked to confirm their children’s participation in the religion class every year, but only once, with the option of modifying their decision.

The new procedure was introduced by the Order of the Ministry of Education no. 3.218/16 February 2018 and generally aligns with the expectations of the Romanian Orthodox Church regarding religious education in public schools, following the decision of the Constitutional Court in 2014 regarding compulsory enrolment for the religion class.

D 8 January 2019    AGabriel Birsan

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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