There were celebrations in the Humanist House in Oslo last Friday, when the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg found that the religious education in Norwegian schools was in violation of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 of the European Human Rights Convention.
With the help of the Norwegian Humanist Association, three sets of parents had taken the Norwegian government before the Court, claiming that the KRL subject (Christianity, religion and life stance education) introduced in public schools in 1993 was not objective, critical and pluralistic. Subsequently, refusing the parents full exemption from the subject for their children was a violation of their rights as parents: “… the State shall respect the rights of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.”
In the verdict, the Court states: “The State must take care that information or knowledge included in the curriculum is conveyed in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner. The State is forbidden to pursue an aim of indoctrination that might be considered as not respecting parents’ religious and philosophical convictions.”
The Court’s conclusion was: “Notwithstanding the many laudable legislative purposes stated in connection with the introduction of the KRL subject in the ordinary primary and lower secondary schools, it does not appear that the respondent State took sufficient care that information and knowledge included in the curriculum be conveyed in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner for the purposes of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1.”
“Accordingly, the Court finds that the refusal to grant the applicant parents full exemption from the KRL subject for their children gave rise to a violation of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1.”
In the evaluation of damage, the Court stated: “… the Court’s finding of a violation will have effects extending beyond the confines of this particular case, since the violation found stems directly from the contested legal framework and not from its manner of implementation.”
An argument by the State that the parents could use private schools for their children was rebutted by the Court: “The Court considers that the existence of alternative education in private schools could not dispense the State from its obligation to safeguard pluralism in State schools which are open to everyone.”
This verdict may well be useful in other countries as well. A press release and the full text of the judgment (“Folgero and others v. Norway”) in English and French can be found at www.echr.coe.int.