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    Violation of the constitutional law on freedom of religion

    "In all matters, it's healthy, once in a while, to hang a question mark on the things you've long taken for granted." Bertrand Russel, British philosopher, pacifist, Nobel laureate

    By George Koumoulli

     

    Encouraged by the above quote of the great philosopher Bertrand Russel and also by some strong complaints of my acquaintances of Nicosia high school students who were forced to participate in a joint church service on the last day of the trimester, I appeal to Parliament to reconsider the constitutional law on freedom of religion which is blatantly violated.

    I remind you that the right to freedom of religion in Cyprus is guaranteed by the Constitution.

    In particular, Article 18, Paragraph one states: ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion’. The same article also states that all religions are free and equal before the law. Article 28(2) also states, inter alia, that no citizen shall be subject to discrimination on grounds of his or her religious beliefs.

    From 1960 until today, 17 amendments have been made to the Cypriot Constitution and none of them concerned freedom of religion.

    It follows, therefore, that the above articles remain in force. This means that (a) the state must be religiously neutral, (b) everyone in Cyprus has the right to practice their own religion or to be an atheist or agnostic and (c) proselytism is illegal. With all this in mind, I ask not one, but three questions about some aspects concerning the religious behavior of our schools and state hospitals which I will try to answer.

    I don’t think it takes specialized legal knowledge to judge whether an act is constitutional or unconstitutional – as long as one has a basic education, a “bearable” IQ and, above all, common sense.

    Question 1: Is it constitutional to teach religion in public schools? Answer: NO.

    Public schools are run by the government. Therefore, they must obey Article 18 of the Constitution. This means that while they can teach about the influences of religion on history, literature, and philosophy, i.e. they can teach religion, they cannot promote religious beliefs or practices as part of the curriculum because This would constitute proselytizing or promoting a particular religion.

    In short, the role of the public school cannot be that of the Sunday school. The role of the latter is to try to motivate individuals to adopt certain views, and especially religious values, which are not the responsibility of the state but of the Church or other religious institutions.

    If I may deviate a little from the main issue, the followers of the secular school will suggest that when the religious lesson is confessional (i.e. when it has a catechetical character) which is in force in too many countries (mainly Muslim) it completely stifles freedom of speech and expression since it is a dogma and as such does not accept any questioning.

    They will also add that confession, Holy Communion, and prayers never healed “sins.” On the contrary, they have provoked and are always causing new abysmal hatreds, multiple bloodsheds, and unspeakable disasters, as the history of every time and place roars.

    Question 2: Is it constitutional for students to start their first lesson prayerfully in the morning, as the Minister of Education insists? Answer: NO.

    Prayers, Bible readings, or other manifestations of worship again violate Article 18 of the Constitution because they not only promote religion in general but favor the Orthodox religion as non-Orthodox children, although citizens of the RoC, they remain idle and dumb at the time of prayer.

    This is true even if the prayer is “non-religious” (not of any particular religion.) Moments of silence can be unconstitutional — it depends on whether the real reason they are held is to encourage prayer.

    I will not mention the negative psychological effects on non-Orthodox children when all other classmates except them pray because I would be beside the point.

    Question 3: Is it constitutional to hang icons of saints in the corridors and medical wards of state hospitals? Again the answer is NO.

    Here, too, religious beliefs are promoted that is incompatible with Article 18 of the Constitution.

    In view of the blatant violation of the Constitution, what should be done? There are only two options, and we must soon make decisions not to give foreigners the right to mock us and say we are a Mickey Mouse state.

    The first option would be to amend the Constitution. So that we do not mock ourselves and each other for allegedly guaranteeing freedom of religion in the RoC, let us abolish Articles 18 and 28, which supposedly guarantee it.

    Then we would at least be consistent and compulsory school sequencing would not be an inconsistency.

    The other option, of course, is to religiously apply Articles 18 and 28, which protect freedom of religion. Such a choice would be futility because it is certain that the attempt to change the established radically will be nipped in the bud by the clerical superminister of education.

     

    *Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of CypriumNews.

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