Relations between the state and bodies of a religious or ideological nature – teaching Catholic Religion and Morals in primary education
RULING Nº 174/93
17 of February of 1993
The principle of the separation of state and church is enshrined in the Constitution as part of freedom of religion; the state must therefore remain neutral in religious matters. It must not act in a sectarian manner, nor even give itself the right to organise education and culture along religious lines or to organise and support denominational state education. In other words, a democratic state governed by the rule of law may not impose a particular theory of humanity, the world and life on its citizens.
The principles of the separation of state and church and non-denominational state education must not, however, preclude all co-operation between the state and churches or other religious communities. The state even has a responsibility to engage in such co-operation, in view of the positive dimension of religious freedom and its duty to co-operate with parents in the education of their children, but must do so within the limits imposed by the principles of state religious neutrality and non-denominational state education.
Although Catholic religion and moral standards are taught as a school subject by primary school teachers themselves, this is not the state's responsibility, despite a symbolic value that might suggest otherwise. First, the subject is taught only by those teachers who agree and have been nominated by the church; second, such instruction is not wholly prohibited by the principle of separation; finally, it does not require the teacher in question to impart a particular theory of humanity, the world and life based on the principles of the Christian faith in the teaching of other subjects.
The teaching of Catholic education, moral standards and religion, which is part of the teacher training syllabus, is an optional subject for which the Catholic Church is responsible, and its inclusion in the syllabus does not have to be approved by the relevant organs of each training college.
A group of national MPs asked the Constitutional Court to declare a number of legal rules set out in two Government orders (Portaria no. 333/86 of 2 July and Portaria no. 831/87 of 16 October) unconstitutional, with universal binding force, on the grounds of an alleged violation of several provisions of the Constitution, particularly the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state, owing to:
a. the teaching of Catholic religion and moral standards as a school subject by primary teachers themselves;
b. the extension of this subject to state higher education institutions;
c. training for teachers in the teaching of Catholic religion and moral standards, the inclusion of such training among lecturers' duties and their appointment by the state on the proposal of the Catholic Church.
By 7 votes to 6, the Court decided that the legal rules at issue were not contrary to the Constitution.