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Religions and schooling

1. Religious education

Churches have the right to provide religious education in public schools and kindergartens at the request of children/students and their parents. Non public schools are not obliged to provide religious education, but they may do so. Neutral public schools should not endorse any religion or ideology, but must provide objective information about religions and philosophical convictions. Teachers at public schools should teach on a neutral basis; they have the right to express their opinion or belief, but they should not indoctrinate their students. Schools should provide fundamental information on ethics.

Denominational religious education was compulsory at public schools until 1949. From the communist takeover religious education became an optional subject but elementary schools were formally obliged to ensure its possibility of. Due to a restrictive administrative practice and the systematic harassment of parents by the 1980s, only 4% of kids received religious education at school – mostly in rural areas. From 1990, the obstacles for religious education were removed and the cooperation of schools and churches reinforced to provide for adequate space and time for religious education and in many areas the schools have become the place of religious education again. Act IV/1990 reinforced the possibility for pupils to participate in optional religious education and instruction organised by a church legal entity in state and council educational institutions. Church legal entities could freely organise religious education and instruction on demand of the parents at kindergartens and on demand of the parents and the students at schools and halls of residence. It has become the exclusive task of church legal entities to define the content of the religious education and instruction, to employ and supervise religious education teachers and to execute the acts of administration related to the religious education and instruction with special regard to the organisation of the application for religious education and instruction, the issuance of progress reports and certificates, and the supervision of lessons. The school was obliged to provide the necessary material conditions for religious education and instruction, using the tools available at the educational-teaching institution, with special consideration to the proper use of rooms and the necessary conditions for applications and operation. The school had to co-operate with the concerned church legal entity in the course of the performance of the tasks related to the optional religious education and instruction organised by the church legal entity.1

Since 2012 an ethics course was introduced into the curriculum of elementary schools (grades 1-8). Children participating in religious education at school do not take part in the ethics classes, in other words, religious education became a compulsory elective subject instead of an optional one.
Religious education at public schools can only be offered by recognised and registered churches, not, however, by religious associations. About half of the pupils take part in religious education and the other half opts for ethics. As about 15% of elementary schools is run by religious communities (where all children learn religion), at state schools the majority learns secular ethics.

Religious instruction in public schools is delivered by ecclesiastical entities, not by the school. The instruction is not a part of the school curriculum, the teacher of religion is not a member of the school staff, and grades are not given in school reports, only participation is registered. Churches decide freely on the content of the religion classes as well as on their supervision. Teachers of religion are in church employment; however, the State provides funding for the churches to pay the teachers. The school has only to provide an appropriate time for religious classes, as well as teaching facilities. Churches are free to expound their beliefs during the religious classes: they do not have to restrict themselves to providing neutral education, merely giving information about religion, as do the public schools otherwise. Religious education is a form of introduction into the life and doctrines of a given religious community at the request of students and parents.

Headscarves have not yet become an issue in Hungary. At present there is no dress code that would rule them out.

2. Religious Schools

Parents with the constitutional right to decide on the education of their children also have the right to set up non neutral schools. ‘Church and schools’ are classed as neither public nor private. After public schools, most schools are run by churches: at the level of secondary education, the proportion of church schools is close to 25%, at elementary school level 15%. Church schools have a great tradition in Hungary as prior to the nationalisation of the educational system 2/3rd of the elementary schools and a third of secondary schools were run by churches.

In Hungary all schools, including church-run schools, are bound by a national core curriculum. This, however, allows each school to establish its own teaching program.

Church schools are not bound by the principle of ideological neutrality. This means that such schools can identify themselves with a particular religion. Religious symbols are allowed on the building as well as in the classrooms. Religious instruction may be a compulsory part of the curriculum (in this case ethics is not a compulsory subject), and the marks gained are shown in the school report. The church schools are allowed to select not only their staff but also their pupils according to religious principles – none of this is allowed in public schools.

The State budget grants equal funding for church schools. Formally the school is maintained by the church, but the State provides the necessary funds – the enjoyment of equal public subsidies, however, precludes the right to collect tuition fees. Equal funding is guaranteed by the law and was reaffirmed as a principle deduced from the Constitution, guaranteeing religious freedom, parental rights and non discrimination.

See also Balázs Schanda, « Religion in public education in Hungary » in Gerhard Robbers (Hrsg.), Religion in Public Education – La religion dans l’éducation publique, European Consortium for Church and State Research, Trier, 2011, 217-226.

D 11 February 2021    ABalázs Schanda

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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