Dispute over public religious symbols in Romania

By staff writers
December 12, 2006

Churches in Romania have denounced calls from an anti-discrimination body for a French-style ban on religious symbols from schools in order to protect the state's secular character and ensure "freedom of conscience" for pupils - Jonathan Luxmoore for Ecumenical News International.

"The presence of religious symbols in schools is not the result of an imposition, but rather of the desire and consent of parents, teachers and students in conformity with the religious and cultural values which they share," the Bucharest Patriarchate of the Romanian Orthodox Church said in a statement rejecting the call.

"Consequently, a decision to exclude them would represent a brutal and unjustified measure of restraining religious liberty, contrary to European democratic principles," it continued.

Romania's National Council Against Discrimination had on 21 November 2006 stated that the education ministry should "prevent discrimination towards agnostic pupils" by requiring school directors to restrict faith symbols to "spaces specially assigned for religious instruction".

The ruling came after a parent, Emil Moise, complained that Orthodox icons were displayed in his daughter's classroom at Margareta Sterian Art High School in Buzau. He asserted this was in violation of the separation of Church and State in Romania, 87 per cent of whose 23 million citizens declared themselves Orthodox Christians in a 2001 national census.

The government of Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu said it had referred the council's decision to the country's parliament, and would await a debate before deciding whether to implement a ban.

The ruling has been deplored as "abusive and discriminatory" by the Roman Catholic archbishop of Bucharest, Ioan Robu, and Jewish and Muslim leaders said they had no objection to the display of Christian symbols.

"Romania provides an example of religious tolerance and co-existence, so such a law is unnecessary", the country's Islamic mufti, Iusuf Muurat, was quoted as saying by the Ziua daily newspaper on 29 November. "Muslims have lived for more than eight centuries in these lands. The existence of other religious symbols in public institutions never bothered us and does not bother us now."

With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.

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