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Greece

  • January 2015:

the process of the exemption of pupils from religious class came to the fore once again. Specifically, encyclical 12773/Δ2-23/01/2015 (in Greek), issued in January 2015 by the previous centre-right Government, provides that non-Orthodox Christians pupils in primary and secondary education may be exempted from religion course, on the condition that the parents sign the relevant consent form. The encyclical also stipulates that the headmasters shall have the responsibility to control the validity of the evidence presented to substantiate the application for exemption. Various voices were raised against the implementation of the encyclical on the grounds that it makes the exemption procedure more difficult by defining stricter criteria and technical impediments. It was even suggested that its practical application might lead to the violation of the religious freedom value frame, because the parents are more or less requested to prove to the head of the school that they are not Orthodox Christians in order to have their child exempted. This has a two-fold effect. First, a third person, i.e. the school’s head, acquires the power to intervene in an absolutely personal matter. Second, the parents’ right not to reveal their personal religious or non-religious affiliation is violated.
Within this context, the new Deputy Minister of Education and Cults, Mrs Sia Anagnostopoulou, stated that the current procedure should be abolished on the grounds of religious freedom. Consequently, the sole criterion for the exemption should be a parental statement, without any indication of the reasons for their decision. This statement, however, triggered the reaction of the Archbishop of the Orthodox Church of Greece Hieronymus, who spoke haughtily about the Deputy Minister. In particular, he stressed that Anagnostopoulou’s statement does not express the Government’s policy, but that of ‘some lady who has certain ideas in mind’. For him, the Constitution, which defines that primary and secondary education should have a ‘Christian’ character, cannot be disputed on this point and ‘the Greeks should become serious and not listen to nonsense’.
The subsequent meeting between the Minister of Education and Cults, Mr Nicos Philis, and the Archbishop made clear that the Government is not actually willing to change the current legal framework. It seems that the coalition Government, despite the pro-secular discourse of the Syriza party, is reluctant to put this issue, or any other controversial questions of religious interest, on the table.

Konstantinos Papastathis
  • Two important legal developments regarding questions related directly with religious affairs in Greece have taken place from April 2014 until November 2014:

- Law 4301 concerning the ‘Organization of the legal form of the religious communities and their unions in Greece’. The Law establishes a new legal form, that of ‘religious personality’ under private law, for those religious communities, which do not enjoy legal personality under public law (i.e. the Orthodox Church, the Jewish and Muslim communities). The Law also stipulates the absolute freedom of internal administration for the communities under the legal status of ‘religious personality’, as well as the procedure for acquiring it from the judicial authorities; it regulates the framework for their financial administration and for religious buildings and institutions as well. Last but not least, the Law recognizes the Roman Catholic, the Coptic, the Ethiopian, the Armenian, the Anglican and other Churches as ‘religious personalities under private law’ putting an end to a lasting problem in Greek legislation (For more details see).

- Law 4283 provides important tax, financial and administrative privileges for the Monastic Community of Mount Athos (more details here).

Konstantinos Papastathis
  • 1 March 2006: Greece legalises cremation

On 1 March 2006, the Greek Parliament adopted a new law legalising cremation of the dead in Greece. The bill was introduced by 10 MPs from conservative, socialist and left-wing parties. There is increasing demand in Greece for cremation as cemeteries are often overcrowded. The law is a result of repeated pressure coming primarily from Human rights’ groups, who argue that cremation constitutes an essential component of religious freedom. This is particularly important given the growing number of non-Christian foreigners who presently reside in Greece.
Cremation has therefore become a legal option, basically for people whose religious beliefs allow them to be cremated (Greeks or foreigners). In this case, cremation is allowed, provided there is a written request by the dead person or a family member. This option however poses difficulties for people who, by reason of their religious belonging, can not be cremated (mainly the Orthodox). The difficulty arises from the fact that the law of 1 March 2006 linked permission to be cremated to religious belonging. The Greek Church is historically opposed to cremation and Archbishop Christodolos has firmly reaffirmed that the Orthodox faith provides only for the interment of the dead. It is not uncommon for Orthodox priests to refuse to perform the last rites for persons having chosen cremation (or for that matter, people who opted for a civil wedding without having a religious ceremony).
There are no crematoriums in Greece since cremation has up to this point been illegal. Those who choose to be cremated must therefore make provision for their bodies to be taken abroad (generally to Romania or Bulgaria). Plans are currently underway to construct two crematoriums in Greece (one in Athens and the other in Thessalonica).

Lina Molokotos-Liederman