The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) has accused Swiss authorities of behaving like “school yard bullies” towards a state school teacher who removed the crucifix from his classroom. Valentin Abgottspon was dismissed from his job as a middle-school teacher in the Swiss canton of Valais on Friday, 8 October. The dismissal came after the teacher raised concerns about the promotion of Christianity by state schools.
Sonja Eggerickx, president of IHEU, said, “Switzerland prides itself on its principle of neutrality, but when Valentin Abgottspon asked school authorities to show neutrality towards religion they reacted like school yard bullies. Forcing a teacher to submit to Christianity in a public school is a violation of the fundamental human right to freedom of conscience. IHEU will fight this abuse of state power all the way to the UN.”
As the world union of more than 100 Humanist and atheist organizations in 40 countries, IHEU has consultative status at the United Nations.
Abgottspon removed the Christian crosses from his classrooms more than a year ago. According to Swiss newspapers his colleagues and at least one person on the school board knew about the removal of the crucifixes, yet there was no negative reaction from the school or the education board until recently. That changed after Abgottspon appeared before the Valais education board, on August 11, as president of the Valais branch of the Freethinkers Association of Switzerland — an IHEU member organization.
Abgottspon presented a list of concerns about religious activities in state schools. He encouraged the board to inform schools about a 1990 Swiss federal supreme court decision that requires school administrations to remove crucifixes from classrooms if requested by parents. Furthermore, he argued that Catholic religious festivities like communion or confirmation should no longer be prepared during school courses. Abgottspon urged the public school system to exercise more neutrality towards religion.
In response, the school administration referred to Article 3 of the canton’s education law, which states that education should prepare pupils for their duties “as human beings and Christians”. At the end of September the mayor of Stalden and multiple members of the regional school administration sent Abgottspon a letter urging him to put the crucifix back in his classrooms. Abgottspon refused, stating again his view that the requirement to teach under the crucifix violates his religious freedom. Overnight the cross was hung back up in Abgottspon’s classroom.
When Abgottspon again removed the cross from his classroom he received his immediate dismissal on the grounds that he could no longer be trusted by the school administration. On his voicemail he found several threatening calls stating “the crucifix is waiting for you!”
—Contact: Matt Cherry, email email@example.com or call +1 518 632 1040.
Editor’s note: Valentin Abgottspon is available for interview in English, French and German
For further information go to: http://www.frei-denken.ch/en/2010/10/teacher-dismissed-after-dispute-over-crucifix-in-classroom/