Europe’s top human rights court has ruled that the Greek system for exempting schoolchildren from religious education classes is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Under existing regulations, parents who want their children to be exempt from religious education classes must submit a solemn declaration saying that their children are not Orthodox Christians.
In a unanimous ruling on Thursday, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said that authorities do not have the right to oblige individuals to reveal their beliefs.
The Strasbourg-based court said that the requirement places an undue burden on parents to reveal information from which it can be inferred that they and their children adhere, or do not adhere, to a specific religious dogma.
“The authorities did not have the right to intervene in the sphere of individual conscience, to ascertain individuals’ religious belief or to oblige them to reveal their beliefs,” the ruling said.
Furthermore, the existing system can even deter parents from making an exemption request, the court said.
The applicants were five Greek nationals, parents and children, who live on the Aegean islands of Milos and Sifnos.
The Court held that Greece must pay 8,000 euros in non-pecuniary damages, jointly, to the first three applicants and the same amount, jointly, to the fourth and fifth applicants. It awarded 6,566.52 euros to the first three applicants for costs and expenses.