Systems in the EU

praying in church

Religion Types of models

Religious education is a key issue in forming the personality of young people, it builds ideas, shapes and sustains traditions, outlines ethics and helps integrate society. Religious education is part of the broader theme of religious freedom. The latter implies the function of positive freedom: being able to actively live one’s life according to one’s religious beliefs. In school, religious freedom guarantees a space for religious needs. It is the right place for specific teaching on the subject. It is also a consequence of the parents’ right to determine their children’s education. All the member states of the European Union are involved in education in the field of religion, in one way or another (1).

An examination of the Member States of the European Union shows a rather heterogeneous picture of religious education in public schools. Religious education within private schools, such as especially those run by churches and religious or philosophical communities, usually follows the teaching of the institution that manages it. In some cases, such as in Germany, these religious schools often offer religious instruction from other denominations, if there is an adequate number of pupils of that denomination in the school. Usually, they do so voluntarily, without there being a legal obligation. In some cases, if these religiously run schools are intensely integrated into the public school system, they may be forced to do so.

Systems in the European Union


According to the art. 7 (3) GG, religious instruction in public schools, with the exception of non-denominational schools, is part of the standard. Despite the state’s right of visit, religious instruction must be given in accordance with the guidelines of religious communities. No teacher is obliged, against his will, to teach religious instruction. The parent or guardian of a child has the right to regulate the child’s participation in religious education; normally, when the child reaches the age of 12, the parents’ decision cannot conflict with that of the child. Upon reaching 14 years of age, children can decide for themselves. Religious instruction, according to the requirements of art. 7 (3) GG, must be a standard subject in public schools, and it is therefore not permissible to place her in the secondary or optional teaching position. The content of the religious instruction is decided by the leaders of the respective confessions. When a minimum number of students of the same denomination is reached, usually between six and eight pupils, the public school is obliged to offer the corresponding religious education. Children, parents and religious communities have a constitutional right to these educational services.

In primary and secondary schools, religious instruction courses are given according to the dogma and tradition of the Orthodox Church. Teaching is given by teachers in primary school and by graduates in theology in secondary schools. Both categories are regarded as civil servants and receive a salary from the state, while their designation and the content of the subject, as taught, are not controlled by the Church. According to the principle of religious freedom, non-Orthodox pupils are not obliged to follow courses (5).


Catholic religious instruction must be given by all non-university institutions in the form of an optional subject, with the decision-making power left to the parents. In the event of a choice contrary to participation, pupils must stay in school and take part in ‘supervised lessons’. The teachers are appointed by the Catholic authorities, but paid with public funds. The choice of subjects to be taught is made by the Church authorities, although the approval of the school authorities is required.

If you decide to participate in classes, students receive an assessment on performance which, if positive, is essential for the transition to the upper classes, although the grades are not taken into account in the designation of places in the education system, or in the administration state, for which students compete on the basis of their academic certificates. The situation is completely different for the religious education of all other denominations, because they must be financed not by the state, but by the denominations themselves (6).


For historical reasons, except in the three departments of Eastern France, public education is secularized, but this laicité takes different forms in relation to the educational levels concerned. The present framework is structured as follows:

  • For primary school, the law provides that one day off per week is allowed to make it possible for parents, if they so wish, to give religious instruction outside the school; it cannot take place in the classroom. At school, ” moral and civic ” rather than ” moral and religious ” teaching is offered. In practice, primary school children have no classes on Wednesdays.
  • Concerning secondary schools, Napoleon created posts of aumônier [chaplains], as an integral part of the institutes. In 1880, the Camille Sée Act established high schools for girls and provided religious teachers not part of the institute and with a less favorable position than their counterparts had enjoyed since the beginning of the century in schools.
  • The Third Republic abolished religion teachers. Since 1905 chaplains can exist but the state has no obligation to cover the expenses. Seats are created by the school manager at the request of parents. The person in charge acts sometimes inside and sometimes outside the school. The cost is covered in part by contributions pro came they will by the parents and partly by the diocese. The designation is made by the head of the institute after appointment of the competent religious authority.


The purpose of religious education in the Swedish school system is that pupils are given an objective view of the different religions of the world (15).


In each school the “core curriculum” includes religious education for all pupils and a “national curriculum” which includes a range of other subjects; in this way, religious education enjoys a special status. England has offered non-denominational religious education in its state schools since 1870.

Religious education curricula must not use a “catechism or form that is distinctive of any particular religious denomination” and the construction of the local curriculum is governed by a complex procedure introduced in the 1944 Education Act and revised in 1988. A conference consisting of four committees is convened, each of which must approve the curriculum. In the committees, which also form the Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE) for the area, there are:

  • The Church of England
  • Those Christian denominations or other religious denominations that reflect the main religious traditions of the area
  • Associations of teachers
  • The local education authority

This procedure gives Church of England representatives the right of veto, but they cannot insist on any element in the curriculum that is unacceptable to other groups, and they cannot achieve anything that comes close to “denominational” religious teaching. Religious instruction is given by ordinarily appointed teachers. The only special rule is that no teacher can be forced to teach in this subject, and a refusal to teach will not be an obstacle to promotion.