THE ECLJ ADVOCATES FOR THE FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE OF SPANISH PARENTS BEFORE THE U.N. AND THE OSCE

BY ECLJ1287513339373

(Strasbourg, France) - The director of the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ), Grégor Puppinck, spoke before the Human Rights Council of the U.N. in Geneva on the 22nd September regarding the violation of international rights by the Education for Citizenship (EFC), saying that Education for Citizenship violates internationally recognized rights.

The Spanish educational system has introduced some new compulsory subjects for both primary and secondary school students which fall into an area of knowledge called “Education for Citizenship” (EFC). The EFC includes issues concerning sexual and emotional education and gender mainstreaming. The moral content of the EFC has been very strongly rejected by a tremendous number of Spanish parents. Nearly 2,300 judicial complaints have been lodged in less than two years as a consequence of EFC in the national compulsory curriculum. In nearly every case in the last three years, local and regional courts have pronounced sentences against the Government. The main subjects of the ECF have been designed to shape the conscience of children, getting deep into their values and their personal and family privacy.

Over 53,000 parents throughout Spain have objected to the new compulsory Education for Citizenship program passed by the Council of Europe. Nearly 55,000 parents have conscientiously objected to the participation of their children to this compulsory subject. Parents have formed more than 70 local and regional associations to support objectors and inform parents and society about EFC. This enormous, unanimous outcry against the EFC demonstrates that a fundamental problem exists with the program.

Dr. Puppinck asked the Human Rights Council to urge the Spanish Government to reverse its position in the conflict against the parents. Freedom of conscience is a fundamental right protected by the European Convention on Human Rights and this right is being infringed by the EPC. The ECLJ recalled that the EFC has led to more than 53,000 parents to conscientiously object because the program violates the right of parents to educate their children according to their own convictions. He added that many of the complaints about this matter obtained favourable rulings in the courts.

At a OSCE meeting in Warsaw on the 1st October, 2010, the ECLJ also addressed the Spanish conflict of Education for Citizenship. This issue was brought to the attention of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and many delegates. The European Centre for Law and Justice participated in two activities introducing the Spanish case of EFC. Firstly, the ECLJ organised a conference at with Miguel Gómez de Agüero spoke. Also, the ECLJ organised an oral statement later on in the day.

The ECLJ gives its support to all the Spanish parents struggling for the right to choose how their children are educated. The introduction of these new compulsory subjects infringes the fundamental rights of both parents and children and the ECLJ encourages the Spanish government to reverse its position.

The aims of the EFC as according to government officials and authors of EFC textbooks are as follows:

  • The aim of this subject is to take children’s education from their parents who are usually very reactionary and from deviationist priests.” (Fernando Savater, author of the Prologue in the textbook by Ed. Laberinto.)
  • “It is necessary to bring up citizens who know their rights and duties and education regarding abortion is a major goal.” (Mercedes Cabrera, Ministry of Education, Dec. 3, 2008.)
  • “Schools have to provide students with ethical and moral education. I cannot trust the moral education their parents give to them.” ( José Antonio Marina, Author of one of the textbooks of Education for Citizenship, at a conference Teacher’s Institute of Juan de Avila (March 2008)
  • “That is exactly what we intend to do: to form ideologically those students with less convictions.” (José Luis Pérez Iriarte, General Director of Education, Professional Formation and Education Innovation, in a meeting at the Ministry of Education with Professionals for Ethics on Jan. 17 2007.)

These aims demonstrate the true purpose behind the implementation of the EFC: the indoctrination of children with a specific worldview through the eradication of parental control over their children’s religious and moral formation. The Human Rights standards stress the obligation of the Spanish government to provide an exemption from the classes that parents find are contrary to their moral beliefs. The parents cannot stop the EFC but they do have a right to stop their children from being taught subjects that they do not approve of. The European Court of human rights has expressed that “Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 prohibited States pursuing any purpose of indoctrination that might be considered as not respecting the religious and philosophical convictions of parents.”

EFC makes specific reference to subjects of controversy and do not aim to do so in an objective manner. The inclusion of homosexual marriage as a type of family is one of the discussed themes in the textbooks. “We fall in love with people no matter what sex.” In addition to this compartmental agenda of the EFC, the political agenda is just as prevalent. This overt and unashamed attempt of the Spanish government to strip parents of their rights and indoctrinate school children has caused uproar throughout Spain.

Up until February 2009, the majority of regional courts issued rulings in favour of the parents, holding that the EFC imposed moral and ideological opinions which meant parents did possess the right to conscientiously object to the courses. However, on the 28th January 2010, the Spanish Supreme Court held that the parents do not have the right to conscientiously object to the EFC.

Spanish parents are now forced to send their children to school knowing that they will receive an education that contradicts their core principles. It is provided for in both European and International law that parents have the right to have their children receive an education in conformity with their moral beliefs and religious convictions. The EFC forcefully invades and violates this fundamental right and these parents must be given an adequate remedy. Even if EFC was permissible as an educational program, Spain must at least provide a possibility for exemption to ensure that it respects the Fundamental Right of parents to have their children receive an education in conformity with their religious and moral convictions.

The EFC was implemented under the guise of the Council of Europe’s Recommendation 12/2002. The EFC was certainly an educational reform but it sharply departs from the guiding principles outlined in R12. The R12 contains recommendations that have not been implemented in the EFC and Spain has also incorporated content into EFC that is not mentioned in the R12. It has completely ignored the idea of familial education and actually aims to undermine it by stating “Schools have to provide students with ethical and moral education. I cannot trust the moral education their parents give them.”

The court has expressed that “Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 prohibited States pursuing any purpose of indoctrination that might be considered as not respecting the religious and philosophical convictions of parents.” When ethical matters are the subject of education, they must be taught in a neutral and objective manner. The ECHR submits, in the case of Kjeldsen and others, that it was “for the State to ensure that the information or knowledge included on the syllabus should be taught in an objective, critical and pluralist fashion, enabling pupils to develop their critical faculties in respect of religions matters in a calm environment, away from any misplaced proselytising.” EFC is certainly not presented objectively and isolates points of view, especially from a Christian perspective. In addition, EFC violates the Toledo Principles and Human Rights Committee case law by intentionally not educating in a neutral and objective manner and by coercing students to adopt certain viewpoints. With the “Toledo Principles“ the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has issued a report that would “offer practical guidance for preparing curricula for teaching about religions and beliefs, preferred procedures for assuring fairness in the development of curricula, and standards for how they should be implemented.” It is recognised that “teaching about religions and beliefs is a major responsibility of schools, but the manner in which this teaching takes place should not undermine or ignore the role of families and religious or belief organizations in transmitting values to successive generations.” The OSCE also made clear that “everyone has the right to hold to the pattern of thought, conscience or religion of their choice, free from any interference from the state under any circumstances. In consequence, no one must be subjected by the state to any form of coercion that would impair their freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of their choice or to change their religion or belief.”

The ECHR has made clear in the case of Kjeldsen that “the obligation incumbent on the authorities is to ensure that parents’ convictions are not offended at this level by imprudence, lack of discernment, or misplaced proselytising.

The Spanish government has implemented EFC in such a way as to coerce students into adopting certain viewpoints and develop specific behaviours. It does not attempt to teach in a neutral, objective manner but instead presents highly controversial issues in a way that alienates students of the Christian faith. EFC should not be permitted to be taught in schools. If, however, it is permitted, Spain must provide an option for parents to conscientiously object to their children taking part in these compulsory classes that go against the religious and moral beliefs of Christians.

Regretfully, some parents are still forced to send their children to school knowing that they will be educated in such a way that directly goes against their deepest convictions.

The ECLJ will continue to stand on the side of these Spanish parents and will support them in their case before the European Court of Human Rights.

The European Centre for Law & Justice (ECLJ) is an international Non-Governmental Organization dedicated to protecting human rights and freedom in Europe. The ECLJ has served in numerous cases before the European Court of Human Rights. Additionally, the ECLJ holds special Consultative Status before the United Nations.