Bulgaria revives debate on compulsory study of religion in schools

On-again, off-again moves in Bulgaria to introduce compulsory study of religion in schools have taken a new turn with Prime Minister Boiko Borissov reportedly having ordered Education Ministry officials and top Bulgarian Orthodox Church clergy to come up with legislative amendments to the Education Act.

The question of teaching religion as a mandatory subject in schools has been hanging for several years, ever since the country – whose population consists mainly of people who declare themselves to be Orthodox Christians – was freed of the former officially atheist communist regime.

Under current law, education in Bulgaria is secular, although some year ago the study of religion – not necessarily Orthodox Christianity – was introduced as an optional subject in schools.

Borissov, whose centre-right government has been in power since July 2009, has revived the issue by commissioning the amendments, according to Bulgarian Orthodox Church Metropolitan of Lovetch Gavriil.

In 2011, Borissov said that he had discussed the matter with Education Minister Sergei Ignatov, acknowledging that the issue was not an easy one.

Gavriil said that there would be another meeting with the Prime Minister at which the issue would be decided, according to a report by Bulgarian-language news website Mediapool. Should the amendments go ahead, it was possible that they could be approved by Parliament before its summer recess. Bulgarian schools resume for the new year in September.

According to Gavriil, the compulsory study of religion would not mean requiring all pupils to study Orthodox Christianity. Other religions recognised underBulgaria’s law on the registration of religious denominations would be options for study.

He said that in predominantly Muslim areas, teaching of religion was already going on but because it was not recognised by law there was no state control about what was taught, who was teaching or what textbooks were used.

Legislative recognition would enable these issues to be controlled by the Education Ministry.

Ignatov said in September 2010, after clergy and lay people held a mass march in Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia to demand the mandatory teaching of religion in schools, that where schools were teaching religion as an optional subject, about 17 000 pupils were studying Islam and about 3000 were studying Christianity.

Gavriil said that the system of optional study of religion had produced few results and in this respect, Bulgaria was “very backward” in comparison with other post-communist countries.

“After 10 to 20 years, today’s children will be the people running the country and whatever their morality, that would be the morality of the state,” Gavriil said. Already, a generation had grown up without religious tuition, he said.

(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)



The Sofia Globe staff

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