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European court warns Turkey to respect parents’ convictions

The European Court of Human Rights decided Turkey must reform religious education in schools to ensure respect for parents’ convictions.
Alevis dance during a prayer in a Cem house in Istanbul April 3, 2008. A court struggle to end mandatory religious instruction in Turkish schools has united Turkey's largest religious minority Alevis and has called into question the ruling AK Party's democratic commitments. Picture taken on April 3, 2008. REUTERS/Umit Bektas (TURKEY)   BEST QUALITY AVAILABLE - RTR2ACQU

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) for over a decade has been claiming that its era has marked a turning point in the country’s democratic advancement and, therefore, its religious freedoms. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tirelessly argued that women with headscarves were denied a place in society before the AKP came to power, and that his rule has guaranteed those pious women breathing room without interfering with anyone’s lifestyle. With a Sept. 16 decision, however, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has provided yet another challenge to the government’s assertions about the country’s religious freedoms.

The court unanimously decided that Turkey violates people’s basic right to education by forcing pupils to attend compulsory religion and ethics classes while “still inadequately [being] equipped to ensure respect for parents’ convictions.” The principal applicants of the case are all from an Alevi background; they complained that their children were being taught religion with the Sunni understanding of Islam, treating “the Alevi faith as a tradition or culture and not as a belief system in its own right,” and therefore forcing these children to face conflicts between the religious instruction given by the school and by their parents.

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