Religious education should be omitted from the programme of public schools, Civic Education should be a mandatory subject

Centre for Civic Education (CCE), Human Rights Action (HRA) and ANIMA – Centre for Women’s and Peace Education vigorously oppose the proposal to introduce religious education in the formal education system and propose introduction of Civic Education as a mandatory subject in primary and secondary schools. We call on the Government, headed by Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapić, to work on the improvement of the existing education system on the basis of the scientific method and civic values as prescribed by the Constitution and which are common to all people and children in Montenegro.

The CCE reacted after the media publicise an unofficial text of the Fundamental Agreement between the Government of Montenegro and the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC), which indicated that Orthodox religious education in public schools will be regulated by a special agreement between the contracting parties. This was followed by the statement of the Metropolitan of the SOC in Montenegro, Joanikije, that his obligation and the obligation of the church will be to advocate for the introduction of religious education in schools.

We believe that the introduction of religious education in public schools would be wrong for several reasons.

Firstly, this idea is contrary to the civic concept of the state of Montenegro. The Constitution stipulates that religious communities are separated from the state. The General Law on Education prescribes the secular character of public institutions and institutions that has been granted for the implementation of a public educational programme and prohibits religious activities in schools that are not licensed as secondary religious schools. Religious education undermines the secular character of education and contributes to the disintegration of the civic concept, which is the only framework in which Montenegrin multi-ethnic and multi-confessional society can function. Education is a public good, a public space that belongs to everyone, regardless of religious differences. Public education must retain the secular character, as regulated by current law.

Secondly, 32 religious communities are registered in Montenegro and according to the Constitution, the state is obliged to treat equally all religions and their believers, as well as those who are not believers. Instead of giving every religious community the right to conduct religious education in a public school, the state should ensure that all children learn about reality, to be aware that in Montenegro live people and children who have different religious beliefs, as well as those who do not have religious beliefs, and that everyone has an equal right to think so. Outside of school, in their leisure time, everyone can attend extracurricular religious education, as they have done so far. Civic education is learning about respecting everyone’s right to freedom of thought and religion, acquiring a culture of basic knowledge of different religions, which in high school can be supplemented within the elective subject History of Religion.

Thirdly, the introduction of religious education would inevitably increase divisions among children, primarily the division into believers – who would attend religious education, and citizens – who would choose Civic Education or other elective subjects, although such a division is pointless in a state where everyone is first and foremost a citizen. Given that Montenegro is already burdened by deep national, political and religious divisions, accompanied by an active conflict between the SOC and the Montenegrin Orthodox Church (MOC), the introduction of religious education in schools would certainly emphasize confessional divisions, and society would run the risk of the education system shaping people who will continue to deepen the divisions gained through upbringing when making political decisions instead of shaping generations tolerant of religious differences. Montenegrin society needs more knowledge about the religions of others and more tolerance for diversity. Children, who believe in different deities and those who do not believe in them, should learn to live with each other – not next to each other, they should respect different beliefs, which is the subject of Civic Education, not religious education, that is in itself exclusive.

Fourthly, for the development of Montenegro as a democratic state, it is much more useful to invest in mandatory civic education, which teaches future voters and politicians their rights, how the state works and what and how should demand from state institutions and political representatives to live better. It is more important for the future of the state to return the status of a mandatory subject to Civic Education in primary schools, which was degraded in 2017 by the former minister, as well as the establishment of the mandatory status of that subject in secondary schools.

Researches on young people’s attitudes indicate a worryingly low level of their political and civic culture. Young people are noticeably distanced from politics and political activity, lack trust in democratic institutions, they are largely homophobic, burdened by ethnic distance – especially towards Roma and Egyptians, and prone to authoritarian attitudes and values. More than 70% of young people have never performed voluntary work. They are more and more radicalized and abused for political confrontations and more often the initiators of violence in those conflicts. In contrast, Civic Education teaches children the skills of communication and peaceful conflict resolution, understanding human rights and taking responsibility for their protection, advancing knowledge of both one’s own culture and the culture of others.

Finally, unlike religious education, which propagates dogma, civic education strengthens critical thinking, which is necessary for society to make progress through new discoveries. Comparatively speaking, the education system of Montenegro is not good enough, therefore, the obligation of the new authorities to develop it by encouraging critical thinking based on the scientific method is greater. We expect the authorities to commit to creating a quality education system based on human rights  as prescribed by the Constitution, which will teach children to live in peace and cooperation with people of different beliefs as well.