Lessons in religion no longer obligatory in Belgium

Summary

The Constitutional Court has ruled that religious studies can no longer be required in Belgium's primary and secondary education system

Do you agree with the court’s decision that school students should not be required to study religion or ethics?

Alternatives under discussion

Belgium’s Constitutional Court has ruled that children should not be required to follow religion or ethics lessons in the country’s primary and secondary schools. Parents can now simply request that their children not receive such lessons.

A year ago, a Brussels couple took the issue of obligatory lessons in religion to the Constitutional Court. The obligation constituted a violation of religious freedom in schools, the couple claimed. The Constitutional Court has supported their claim.

Previously, primary and secondary pupils had to choose which religion to study from the list of recognised religions: Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican, Jewish or Islam. Students could also choose lessons in ethics instead of one of the religions.

In Flanders, parents are already allowed to request that their children not follow religious or ethics studies but must provide a detailed explanation as to why. Children who do not follow the lessons carry out self-study.

The Constitutional Court’s ruling also has consequences for Flemish education, however, as it states that parents’ obligation to explain the reason behind their decision conflicts with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Flemish education minister Hilde Crevits said that she will examine the verdict to determine how it affects the region’s current system. In Wallonia, political party MR has suggested abolishing religious studies altogether and replacing them with philosophy or lessons on the cultural history of religion.

Educational system

The Flemish educational system is divided into two levels: primary (age six to 12) and secondary school (12 to 18). Education is compulsory for children between the ages of six and 18.
Types - There are three educational networks in Flanders: the Flemish Community’s GO! network, and publicly funded education – either publicly or privately run.
Not enough space - In recent years, Flemish schools have been struggling with persistent teacher shortages and a growing lack of school spaces.
No tuition fees - Nursery, primary and secondary school are free in Flanders.
1

million school-going children in 2013

30

million euros Flemish education budget for new school infrastructures in 2013

11

percent of boys leaving secondary school without a diploma