Case of European Court of Human Rights, October 31, 2019 (case Papageorgiou and Others v. Greece)

Resolution Date:October 31, 2019

Information Note on the Court’s case-law 233

October 2019

Papageorgiou and Others v. Greece - 4762/18 and 6140/18

Judgment 31.10.2019 [Section I]

Article 2 of Protocol No. 1

Respect for parents' religious convictions

Parents obliged to submit solemn declaration, with teacher’s countersignature, as to non-Orthodox Christian status of children for exemption from religious education course: violation

Facts – Application no. 4762/18 concerned three applicants, namely two parents and their daughter (a child); and application no. 6140/18 concerned a mother and her daughter (also a child). The two children were students at schools on two small Greek islands.

The parent applicants complained that they were obliged to submit a solemn declaration to seek exemptions for their children from a religious education course. They also complained that such declarations had to be kept with the school records and that the relevant school principal had to enquire whether their content was true.

Law – Article 2 of Protocol No. 1: The main issue raised had been that of the obligation on the parents to submit to the principal of each school a solemn declaration in writing, countersigned by a teacher, declaring that their daughters were not Orthodox Christians, in order for the latter to be exempted from the religious education course.

Under both Article 16 § 2 of the Constitution and the Education Act, the religious education course was mandatory for all students. However, a circular of 23 January 2015 provided that non-Orthodox Christian students – that is to say, students with a different religious or doctrinal affiliation, or non-religious students who relied on grounds of religious conscience – could be exempted from attending the course. This exemption procedure had been maintained in force by Article 25 § 3 of a decision of the Minister of Education dated 23 January 2018.

The 2015 circular did not require religious justification to be provided in the exemption form. However, the parents had been obliged to submit to the relevant school principal a solemn declaration in writing, countersigned by a teacher, stating that their child was not an Orthodox Christian. That school principal had the responsibility of checking the documentation in support of the grounds relied on by the parents and drawing their attention to the seriousness of the solemn declaration they had filed.

Checking the seriousness of the solemn declaration implied that the school principal was...

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