Freedom of education

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Freedom of education is the right for parents to have their children educated in accordance with their religious and other views, allowing groups to be able to educate children without being impeded by the Nation state.

Freedom of education is a constitutional (legal) concept that has been included in the European Convention on Human Rights, Protocol 1, Article 2, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Article 13 and several national constitutions, e.g. the Belgian constitution (former article 17, now article 24) and the Dutch constitution (article 23).[1]

Brown v. Board of Education was a landmark United States Supreme Court case that overturned segregation in US schools based on one's race.


In Europe, the European forum for freedom in education was formed in 1989 and has 69 members across 13 countries.[2] Their official demands include a need for autonomy to students and teachers. It also establishes the importance of diversity in education, to allow parents the choice of sending their child to a school that aligns with their views.[3]

The Netherlands

In the Netherlands, a political battle raged throughout the nineteenth century over the issue of the state monopoly on tuition-free education. It was opposed under the banner of "Freedom of Education" and the Separation of Church and State. The Dutch called it "De Schoolstrijd" (The Battle of the Schools). The Dutch solution was the Separation of School and State by funding all schools equally, both public and private[4] from 1917. The freedom of education resulted in the establishment of many new school types in the total spectrum of education in the Netherlands. New methods of education were introduced inspired by ideals on education (like those of Maria Montesori, Rudolf Steiner, Jenaplan). Also schools were funded based on religion. After the influx of workers from Islamic countries, Islamic schools were introduced. In 2003, in total 35 Islamic schools were in operation.[5] However, a study in 2015 showed that the introduction of new schools for secondary education appeared difficult. Local communities, including existing local schools, appeared resisting the introduction of new schools, for instance by delaying the procedure to find a location for the new school.[6]

Presently, freedom to teach religion in schools is a protected right. Both for individuals or groups to teach and for an individual to learn. While it plainly means children, it can be interpreted to apply to parent's rights to have their valued beliefs or principles taught to the child.[7]

Although there have been issues around limiting the abilities of religious schools within the Netherlands. This includes serious threats to orthodox Jewish and Islamic schools ability to enjoy this freedom. Following a general change in attitudes within the Netherlands there has been controversy surrounding balancing the freedom of education with the other rights of non-discrimination that might be seen particularly towards women in many conservative Islamic schools.[7]

Most religious schools in the Netherlands have also since stopped acting within their own subset of institutions, thus lessening their power within the education system. Combined with the growth in diversity, and an overriding importance of non-discrimination, the ability for religious groups with conservative views in the Netherlands to educate their children in the manner that they were has been tarnished.[7]

Situation in Europe (2013)

A University of Amsterdam study of 2013 ranked six member states by their parallel education (the ability to voluntary create a religious denomination which can be aided/impeded through funding) to give an indication of the freedom of groups and individuals to instill their religious beliefs through education.[8] The conclusions are listed below.


Denmark achieved a high rating. Denmark’s constitution requires a duty of education, but not one aimed at the school. This creates an option for private education or home-school. Private schools receive a subsidy that covers approximately 3/4ths of the costs. Over the last ten years, Denmark has raised its level of supervision of these schools and the obligations on the schools to regulate themselves.

The Netherlands

The Netherlands achieved a high rating; Religious schools in the Netherlands which are private are funded equally to public schools and are subject to the same regulations. Well over half of the Netherlands' schools are built on the grounds of a religion. Dutch constitution (article 23) protects freedom of education and means the Government must hold private and state schools equally. While Private schools need to employ proper teachers, they may select their teachers or pupils based on their spiritual beliefs or values.


Ireland received a high rating. 95% of primary and 57% of secondary Irish schools are denominational, though this number is decreasing. Education is supported by predominantly Catholic but also Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim institutions and trusts. There are also Irish language schools for parents who want to teach their children through the national language, as a vast majority of the population of Ireland speaks English. Compared with the rest of the continent, religious educational groups have had strong levels of freedom, and have been able to establish schools that receive considerable State funding.


Italy received a medium rating. Religious schools in Italy are private, which can request to become treated like public schools. If they achieve this, they will be under the same rules as public schools. They can receive funding, but in most successful instances it was only Catholic schools managed by Catholic groups, the dominant religion in the country.


Spain received a medium rating. In theory Spain’s constitution protects the right to create a school based upon a certain belief. However, in practice, establishing schools for minority groups can be problematic mostly due to availability of resources. Under ten schools within the country actually educate religious minority groups.


Sweden received a high rating. The freedom of Swedish private schools in is equal to that of state schools. While religious schools can select their own staff or students, the national regulations clearly state what can and cannot be omitted from teaching, such as gender. Rules surrounding dress or behaviour are allowed provided they comply within the general law. The ability to teach a notably Islamic curriculum is restricted however which meant that the rating of Sweden came close to being downgraded to medium.

North America

United States of America

Around 17% of schools in the United States are faith-based. However America does not offer families any public support to attend such schools routinely. [9]

Public schools are required by certain state laws to educate their students in a secular manner so as not to endorse any specific religion. However most public schools in the US have become more responsive to a variety of dietary requirements, peanut free, nut free, vegetarian options and children are allowed to be exempt from activities that would normally be inconsistent with their religious teachings.

However, despite there being no constitutional pressures on the freedom of parents to choose education, the American society still opposes Religious education in some States. Negative news reporting combined with the general attitude of American citizens places pressure upon parents who want to send their child to religious private school.

South America

Religious freedom of schools is supported through the Constitution of many South American Countries. In Chile, funds are provided to both state and private schools at all ages. There is no non-catholic teaching in most schools within this region however.[10] While there is still some frequency of religious discrimination in South America the legal and societal restrictions have been overcome through a combination of influence by the Vatican, a spread of Protestantism and Constitutional change. Freedom of education through a belief outside the Christian faith still remains a contested issue throughout South America.[11]


The South African Charter of Religious Rights and Freedoms section 15 allows for observance of religious observances in State or private schools, provided they are compliant with other laws.[12]


There is legal support for free and open Religious education within the Australian Public schooling system, but its actual application is very rare. However, there is also support for a “confessional” method of religious education which has been commonplace since the 19th century. This confessional method lets churches visit to give religious lessons in schools.[13] There are also many Islam and Jewish schools throughout the Country, with a strong presence in the New South Wales and Victoria States. The Australian Government does provide funding to private schools, over half of which are faith based.[14]



Israel currently offers a growing number of Haredi and Arab schools, as well as special private schools that reflect certain beliefs of parents or based around a foreign country curriculum for example Jerusalem American International School. Despite this, the success rate of Haredi students at the national level is significantly low. Israel also operates an Arab education system for their minority, including lessons on their own culture and history to support Arab parents. But there have been allegations of better funding directed towards the Jewish education system. One report suggested the Israeli Government spends $192 per year on each Arab student, compared to $1,100 per Jewish student. A 2001 [Human Rights Watch] report claimed Arab school students were getting an inferior education from less resources, and poorly constructed institutions.[15]

See also


  1. Stichting Advisering Bestuursrechtspraak, grondwet artikel 23 (In Dutch)
  2. History of European forum for freedom in education, The European forum for freedom in education official website.
  3. Demands of European forum for freedom in education, European forum for freedom in education demand's on EU policies.
  4. Hooker, Mark (2009). Freedom of Education: The Dutch Political Battle for State Funding of all Schools both Public and Private (1801-1920). p. x. ISBN 1-4404-9342-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. W.A. Shadid (2003). "Controlling lessons on religion on Islamic schools, based on an article in Vernieuwing. Tijdschrift voor Onderwijs en Opvoeding". Interculturele communicatie (in Dutch). Retrieved 29 April 2015.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Kuiper, Rik (29 April 2015). "Establishing a new school virtually impossible". De Volkskrant (in Dutch). Retrieved 29 April 2015.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Marcel Maussen & Floris Vermeulen (2015) Liberal equality and toleration for conservative religious minorities. Decreasing opportunities for religious schools in the Netherlands?, Comparative Education, 51:1, 87-104, DOI: 10.1080/03050068.2014.935576
  8. Applying tolerance indicators: assessing tolerance for religious schools, 2013, Marcel Maussen.
  9. NReligious Schools in America
  10. Religious education in schools
  11. Education and religious freedom in South America
  12. South African Bill of Rights Article 15.
  13. Finding the balance: Religious education in Australia
  14. Australian funding of private schools.
  15. Israeli schools separate, not equal.