Religion and State in Slovenia with special regard to religious education and use of religious symbols in the public sphere

date: 20 October 2021

location: Online lecture, Slovenia

presenters: Frane Stanicic, Prof. dr. sc. Aleš Ferčić

moderators: Frane Stanicic

themes: Religion and state in Slovenia with special regard to religious education and use of religious symbols in the public sphere

I held a lecture entitled “Religion and state in Slovenia with special regard to religious education and use of religious symbols in the public sphere” to the students of the first year of master studies “Law” in the course “Constitutional and Administrative law and the European Union System: Selected Topics” (Ustavno in upravno pravo ter sistem Evropske unije: izbrane teme) in the scope of lectures in the cited subject with the help of course head – izv. Prof. dr. sc. Aleš Ferčić, Faculty of Law, University of Maribor.

The lecture was held on 20 October in the duration of 45 minutes (35 minutes lecture and 10 minutes discussion with the students). At the beginning, I introduced the students with the project “Freedom of conscience and religion in Europe” and the work of Ferenc Mádl Institute of Comparative Law.

The lecture consisted of a comprehensive report regarding Slovene model of state-church relations with special regard to religious education and use of religious symbols. Slovene society cannot be described as particularly multicultural or heterogeneous. Compared to a number of other European countries it can be considered virtually homogenous. The Roman Catholic Church is by far the largest religion, accounting for about 60% to 80% of Slovene citizens (if baptism is taken as the formal criterion). The path Slovenia took did not resemble most of the former Yugoslav republics which all opted for the separation of church and state, but with strong ties with the most numerous religious community (Catholic Church in Croatia, SOC in Serbia, Islam Community in Bosnia etc.), but envisaged its own state-church relations model which can be (although it is not legally prescribed as such) linked to the famous French model of laicite. Namely, the preamble of the 1991 Constitution of the Republic of Slovenia contains no reference to God or religion. Article 7 of the new democratic constitution determined the role of churches and religious communities and their relation to the state. Article 7 sets forth the following basic principles: separation between the state and religious communities, equality among religious communities, and free activity (autonomy) of churches and religious communities within the legal order.

The freedom of religious belief is closely connected with the freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by the Constitution in Article 39, as this freedom among others permits a unrestrained expression of individual’s religious conviction, and it is also linked with the right to personal dignity and safety (Article 34), the protection of right to privacy and personality rights (Article 35) and with the protection of personal data (Article 38). The Constitution does not provide for any special limitations of the freedom of conscience, which makes it like all other human rights and fundamental freedoms generally limited only by the rights of others (Article 15/3). There are other constitutional provisions which should be mentioned, as, for example, Article 63 of the Constitution forbids incitement of religious discrimination, hatred, and intolerance. Articles 46 and 123 recognize the right to conscientious objection on the basis of religious, philosophical or humanitarian convictions. Article 46 provides that the right of “conscientious objection shall be permissible in cases provided by law where this does not limit the rights and freedoms of others. Also, Article 16 must be mentioned as it ensures that the state cannot, even in state of emergency, suspend or restrict freely functioning of churches, their equality and separation from the state.

Slovenian model of relations between the state and the church is established by Article 7 of the Constitution. In Slovenian legal theory it is said that the equality of religious communities has been, at least until the end first half of 2000, understood by the state as an “undiscriminating affirmation of the whole religious field”. The meaning of this was that different religious communities are equal before the law. Religious communities are separated from the system of separation of powers from the Article 3 of the Constitution or from the state institutions stricto sensu. However, because of the fact that believers are citizens with the right to vote the limitation for religious communities are derived from Article 7: religious communities are not allowed to organize themselves as political parties or act within state institutions.  On the other hand, some feel that Slovenia has the French model of laicite and that the principle of separation establishes the secularism of the state. This means that the state must not be tied to any church and it cannot privilege, discriminate against or opt for religiosity or non-religiosity.  Kaučić wrote that in Slovenian legal theory and practice the principle of separation of state and religious communities is predominantly understood and interpreted in terms of consistent and strict separation modeled on states with a more pronounced separation of state and church. Such a position is not to be attributed to the constitutional order, but legal and executive derivation this constitutional principle, and in particular the influence of the previous political system. Separation of state and religious communities and in this context, secularism and state neutrality do not mean also the forced secularization of society by the state or even antitheism, nor do they lay secular indifference, nor do they prevent cooperation between the state and religious communities, provided that this does not interfere with a constitutional principle separation of the two. Stress states that a laic state (laična država) does not take upon itself the roles which are religious by nature, and therefore is not aggressive towards religion, it does not feel threatened from religion and therefore it cooperates with religion as this is useful for its citizens and public good. However, Slovenian authors agree that Article 7 of the Constitution prescribes three principles which define the legal position of religious communities in Slovenia: principle of separation, principle of free action of religious communities and principle of equality of religious communities. However, the Religious Freedom Act in accordance with Article 5 of the Constitution regulates the duty of the state to respect the identity of religious communities and to uphold open and continuous dialogue with them while developing forms of permanent cooperation. When we take Articles 5 and 7 of the Constitution, taken into account with Article 41 of the Constitution, it is clear that the Constitution did not opt for the exclusion of religion from the public sphere as was prescribed by previous socialist constitutions of SFRY and Slovenia. Therefore, the Constitution guarantees free religious manifestations, including public manifestations of faith (as forum externum).

The impact of the Religious Freedom Act on the Slovenian model of state-church relations is huge as it marked a sharp turn in practice and legislation. Namely, prior to its enactment, Slovenia was rightly portrayed as a country which mirrored France in its laicite model of state-church relations which strongly insists on state neutrality. After the enactment of the Religious Freedom Act in 2007, Slovenia undertook a huge change as it embraced, in reality, another model of state-church relations – the cooperation model in which state neutrality cannot have the same significance as in the earlier model. Moreover, according to the Religious Freedom Act, the state is obliged to enter into relations with various religious communities. However, the state entered into various relations with religious communities even prior to the enactment of the Religious Freedom Act (three agreements in early 2000’s) which would suggest that the model of state-church relations in Slovenia was never really one of laicite.

However, there is an interesting issue which would again suggest that Slovenia has the laicite model. Namely, religious education. Most European countries provide some kind of religious education. Mediation of religious content in schools is implemented in the following ways: as confessional religious education and as non-confessional religious education as a separate subject or as part of other subjects. Slovenia is among the few European states which does not have official religious education in public schools, but there is one elective (obligatory) course Religions and ethics (Varstva in etika) which is taught in higher classes of primary school. It is interesting to mention that the Organization and Financing of Upbringing and Education Act explicitly prohibits any religious activities in public schools. Not only that, it also prohibits any other kind of denominational activity in public schools and kindergartens. This is why some scholars put the equation sign between Slovenia and France with regard to religious education. Religious education in public schools in Slovenia does not, stricto sensu, exist. As it was discussed above, Slovenian model of state-church relations was formed with strong emphasis on state neutrality and resembled the famous French laicite model. However, as was also discussed above, this model was, in reality, seriously modified in 2007 with the Freedom of Religion Act which introduced, in a sense, the cooperation model of state-church relations in Slovenia. One should also keep in mind different agreements between the state and different religious communities which the state entered into from 2000 onward. Because of the fact that, especially in the 1990s, the emphasis was so strong on state neutrality, Slovenia opted for a very strict (Ivanc calls it “ultra-strict”) approach to the question of religious education in public schools. Unlike all other former Yugoslav republics which all reintroduced religious education (confessional) after 1991 after it was missed out from the school curriculum in 1951/1952 school year, Slovenia went its own way. The law forbids religious activities in public schools, which, in practice, means that it is not allowed: 1. to perform confessional religious education, i.e. teaching in the classroom; 2. to have teaching contents or teachers appointed by religious communities and 3. to organize religious services. As it is obvious from the decision of the Constitutional Court, because of the strong emphasis on state neutrality prescribed by the Article 7 of the Constitution, the Court deemed the ban of “confessional activities” in accordance with the Constitution.

As discussed supra, Slovenian model of state-church relations leans towards the French model of laicite, and state neutrality is extremely highlighted up to the enactment of Religious Freedom Act in 2007. This is why Slovenia is among the few European states that do not allow for religious education in public schools. From the wording of the Education Act it would follow that any professions of religion in public schools is prohibited, although the display of religious symbols is not explicitly prohibited. However, it is, as it seems, the consensus between most Slovene scholars that displaying religious symbols would breach the duty of the state to be neutral towards religion. From this a similar conclusion can be reached regarding the display of religious symbols in all public institutions in Slovenia. From this point of view, the display of religious symbols in Slovenia is prohibited in public institutions. However, there is the obligation of the state to enable religious assistance to those who find themselves in particular circumstances (soldiers, police, prisoners, elderly, and the sick). This of course means, for example, turning a prison space in a church, or a place for worship. Needless to say, this is impossible without garnishing the space with religious symbols. Therefore, the state neutrality does not prohibit displaying religious symbols altogether. Therefore, there are two possible interpretations of Articles 41 taken into conjunction with Article 7 of the Constitution. According to the first, Slovenia is a lay state in which state neutrality is paramount and display of religious symbols in public institutions violate said neutrality and is therefore prohibited. According to the second, although Slovenia has a system of rather strict separation of state and church, this does not mean that display of religious symbols should be prohibited in all areas.

Maybe it is time to rethink the position of religious education in Slovene public schools. One could take into account Kodelja and his suggestions from 1999. Namely, Kodelja suggested that there must exist some obligatory topics regarding religion and ethics in school curricula and some optional topics. It is, in my opinion, impossible to introduce pupils to all mentioned topics through other subjects (History, Arts etc.), and in Slovenia only some pupils choose the one subject on Religion – Religion and Ethics. This means that most pupils do not have adequate knowledge about, inter alia, mayor world religions, religious culture, religious freedom etc. This is why I argue that such an obligatory subject should be introduced in Slovene public schools. Confessional religious education would maybe be a step to far for Slovenia, but religious education in the form of religious culture would and should be a welcome addition in the school curricula in Slovenia.

The event was, in my opinion, very successful, and the students were pleased with the lecture and presentation. They learned about the Ferenc Mádl Institute of Comparative Law and its projects. Therefore, I find the dissemination event completed with success.

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