An administrative court in Germany has rejected a lawsuit on behalf of a non-religious student, claiming a right of exemption from school to mark World Humanist Day on the basis of equality with regulations covering religious holidays.
21 June is designated World Humanist Day by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) and its member organisations around the world.
The Berlin court ruled against the request to have an "unexcused absence" note expunged from the student's record, resulting from his participation in World Humanist Day, find that the mother, knowing that the teacher had rejected her claim for a leave of absence, should have asked for provisional legal protection first, instead of taking her son out of school on 21 June, 2011.
The court further ruled against the claim that World Humanist Day should be added to administrative regulations which stipulate a list of festivals eligible to be claimed as a school holiday. These holiday exemptions can be claimed only with reference to select religious groups specified in the regulations. The court noted that the situation will not arise again with World Humanist Day for the next three years because it will occur during regular holidays.
The mother of the 13 year-old student, a member of the German Humanist Association (Humanistischer Verband Deutschland, HVD), brought the case on the basis of secular equality with regulations introduced in 2008 for children belonging to the Protestant, Catholic, Jewish or Muslim confession.
The case highlighted another inconsistency in current practice, with the teacher of the younger son wishing the family “a nice day” for 21 June, while the older son’s teacher denied permission for the holiday.
The lawsuit also roused religious groups to attack Humanist organisations locally. Thomas Hummitzsch, public relations officer of the HVD’s regional association in Berlin-Brandenburg, rejected a statement from the protestant church in Berlin which branded the local humanists a “fringe group” with no relevance for society. Hummitzsch said that while a right of exemption from compulsory school attendance exists for children from the Jewish community in Berlin, with about 10,000 registered members, there is no equal right for children whose parents are member of the HVD, though the regional association has about 8,000 members.
Manfred Isemeyer, chief executive officer of the HVD Berlin-Brandenburg, said: “Humanists aren’t truants.” The court’s decision “did not solve the problem” he said, and “It can’t be that students with lifestances grounded in secular humanism aren’t allowed to celebrate their philosophical attitudes and worldview with their own holiday while students with a religious confession can claim a day away from school without any problem.”
Isemeyer emphasized the social relevance of World Humanist Day, given that about 54,000 children and teenagers in Berlin and Brandenburg are taking part in the school subject Humanistische Lebenskunde (“Humanistic life skills”), a philosophy-of-life-based subject for children offered by the HVD as a non-religious alternative to courses offered by religious groups.
He also argued that not only rising membership of HVD but also the rising numbers attending Lebenskunde demonstrate a broad interest in a Humanist holiday which is officially recognized by the authorities and which enables the right to claim a school free day for celebration on 21 June.
Frieder Otto Wolf, president of HVD’s national association, said: “official recognition would be an important step towards achieving equality under public law for our shared philosophy and towards equal rights for non-religious people”. Wolf called upon humanists to embrace development of World Humanist Day, and looked forward to more favorable decisions in the future. “The equal treatment of non-religious people is coming.”