Fears for future of religion classes in Belgian schools

Religion classes in Belgium’s French-speaking schools will be cut in half, starting in October.

The classes will be replaced with a weekly hour of “citizenship classes”.

Critics worry that the new classes will promote abortion and homosexuality, the Catholic News Agency reported.

There are also fears that the changes could end up pushing teachers with a religious education or background out of the schools.

The decision was announced by the Belgian government in a July 7 decree.

This was despite the fact that 97 per cent of students had said they wanted the religion classes to be maintained.

Last month, amid debate over the measure, the Belgian bishops’ conference released a statement emphasising the importance of religious study in schools.

“Indeed, removing the Catholic religion classes would mean relegating religious belief to the private sphere, which, for a democratic state, would be an impoverishment,” they said.

The Belgian state curriculum includes religion classes, with students having the choice of Catholic, Orthodox, Muslim, Jewish, Protestant or “a-confessional morality”.

The classes normally consist of two weekly hours of teaching.

Last year, the government started a procedure to cut in half the weekly hours of religion in the curriculum.

The new citizenship classes – entitled “Education of philosophy and citizenship” (EPC) – will go into effect in October,2016, in primary schools and October, 2017, in secondary schools.

The government decision will apply only to the French-speaking schools in Belgium.

Each of the country’s three main language communities – French, Flemish and German – has authority over their respective educational programmes.

One religion teacher, who requested anonymity, told CNA that “these citizenship classes are part of a real ideological indoctrination”.

Segments of the Belgian press have also criticized the content of the new classes, labelling them cours de rien, or “classes of nothing”.

The citizenship classes must be taught by “neutral” teachers.

These educators must not have any religious education in their background, including a degree from a Catholic university.


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