Guest post by Simon Davis
Greek public schools hold daily Orthodox prayer, schedule regular church visits, and mandate the taking of a “religious studies” class every year. The “religious studies” classes vary with each grade level but almost exclusively feature Greek Orthodox theology. The governing body overseeing the public schools is the Ministry of Education and Religion. This is the same ministry that pays the salaries of the country’s Orthodox priests.
However, Greek law also allows students to opt out. Due to data privacy regulations that forbid the government to record people’s religion, students cannot be compelled to state their religious affiliation to school officials under any circumstance. As a result, all that is required is to submit a simple form that states a deire to be exempt from “religious studies”, mandatory prayer and church visits signed by their guardian if they are under 18. Students 18 or over may submit their own form.
Unfortunately, many school administrators are either unaware of or simply refuse to allow the exemption, and ministry officials are not holding them to account.
The latest case is Stavros Kanias, School Principal in the Glika Nera suburb of Athens. Kanias is refusing to allow a middle school student to opt out, even stating that his refusal is based on a desire to “follow the law of Christ”. Even though the required form has been submitted it is not being accepted. Many similar cases are often not publicized. When Greek MP’s have raised the question in parliament, the Education Minister has simply reiterated the procedure and deferred to lower ministry officials.
In response to an increase in the amount of denied exemptions, the Greek Atheist Union is organizing a campaign to not only put pressure on the school and the ministry to allow this particular student to opt out, but just as important to ensure that the Ministry enforces the law and takes active steps to ensure this does not occur anywhere else. In collaboration with the Greek Atheist Union, I have created a petition that will be delivered to the Greek Education Minister, the official for the school district as well as the principal.
It is immensely important that we receive signatures from as many countries as possible. Greek officials and politicians are especially sensitive to being seen as “embarrassing the country abroad”. But it will also be an much-needed show of solidarity to secular families in Greece that are asking for their basic legal rights to be respected by an often times indifferent or hostile public school system.
Simon Davis is director of online marketing at a healthcare publications company. He grew up in Greece. You can tweet him at @SimonKnowz