Centre for Civic Education (CCE) strongly condemns and calls on the competent authorities to react urgently due to the incident in which the abuse of the authority of one teacher endangered human rights, as well as the health of pupils of the elementary school “Yugoslavia” in Bar.
Teacher Visnjic, through a Viber group, which was established to more efficiently conduct the formal educational process in a pandemic, invited pupils to a religious ceremony in a religious building. On that occasion, several National Coordination Body’s measures were violated. We believe that there are enough reasons for the competent educational and prosecuting authorities to react to prevent future similar “extracurricular activities”, and for teacher Višnjić to be adequately sanctioned.
CCE recalls that Article 14 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which are also part of the Montenegrin legislative framework, stipulate that everyone has the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression. However, these conventions also provide for the right not to be religious or to express a religion as such. Article 5 of the General Law on Education explicitly prohibits religious activity in institutions of a publicly valid educational programme.
CCE assesses that teacher Višnjić grossly abused the official communication channel for the exchange of data that are important for the education of pupils by propagating and influencing minors for the benefit of one religious community. Viber groups that teachers have with pupils, in a pandemic, serve to replace content that cannot be communicated in the classroom. Any use of such groups by teachers for any other purpose constitutes an abuse of the position and authority of those teachers, and in this case, it led to many other violations of legal and ethical norms.
Religious schooling, or the official emphasis on any religion in relation to others, has no place in a democratic society within a secular education system, and especially not in a state where there is a pronounced multicultural dimension. In addition to preserving the health of children, teachers always, and especially in this very complex period, must not only provide students with knowledge in the areas they cover but also be a model of respect for the civic framework of the state of Montenegro. Children in our schools should be educated as citizens, adopt democratic values ,and be able to think critically and fight for human rights and freedoms, and there is no place for the propagation of any religion.
From the epidemiological aspect, Visnjic’s act is devastating. The efforts of healthcare workers and other educators in respecting the hygienic measures, distance and wearing masks in schools are meaningless if one teacher invites children to risky gatherings. And with that – all this happens when Montenegro is a leader in the number of infected people in the region, and beyond, with simultaneous efforts to preserve the system that allows children to be educated in the classroom. The personal religious need, which, as we have heard from church people, can be practiced outside the churches, was put in this case before the health of the children, which disqualifies this teacher from further work in the formal education system.
Also, CCE calls on the authorities to initiate proceedings against the responsible people from the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral who once again held a religious service without respecting the minimum health measures, which can only worsen the existing epidemiological situation.
CCE also calls on the media to pay special attention to the processing of news involving minors. From the aspect of protection of the integrity of minors and general protection of personal data, it was problematic to publish photos of these minors in certain media, which was later reposted to social media. The people in charge of this from the church had to keep that in mind when they made those photos available through their official channels, but the same applies to the journalists who violated the Journalists’ Code by publishing these photos.
Miloš Vukanović, Advisor