Three years after Grzelak v. Poland: ethics classes in schools still unavailable
In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights delivered the judgment in the case of Grzelak v. Poland. Mr and Mrs Grzelak had spent several years unsuccessfully trying to provide their son with the opportunity to attend ethics classes. Their son did not attend a religion course and as a result the place for religion/ethics mark on his school leaving certificate was filled up by a straight line. The Grzelaks argued that a school report so drafted revealed their religious beliefs owing to the fact that in practice no ethics course was offered.
The Court held that Poland’s failure to provide ethics classes in State schools resulted in discrimination against non-believer pupils and was a violation of the right to freedom of conscience and religion.
The judgment, itself unambiguous, was delivered three years ago but access to ethics classes in schools has not improved since. Another school year is about to begin and ethics classes will still be available to only a limited number of students. In the 2012/2013 school year only 4.49 per cent of all schools offered courses in ethics. Furthermore, the school certificate template remains the same.
The ECtHR did not state directly what steps ought to be taken by Poland in order to change the way of reporting the ethics/religion grade on the certificate into a more neutral one. According to the HFHR, the best possible solution is to popularise ethics classes. For several years the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights has been arguing that the absence of ethics courses in Polish schools is generally a result of faulty legal measures, in particular those adopted in a 1992 regulation of the Ministry of National Education and Sport which sets a high minimum attendance threshold required for setting up an ethics course.
Last year, the Ministry of Education proposed introducing ethics into schools as an e-learning course. The solution, still in conceptual development, is to be implemented in 2015.
“Unless Polish authorities provide an actual alternative for Roman Catholic religious teachings, the mark for religion should not appear on school certificates since it stigmatises persons of non-Roman Catholic religious affiliations and violates Article 9 of the ECHR read in connection with the Convention’s Article 14”, says Dorota Pudzianowska, HFHR legal expert.