Religion in School

A controversy over whether the grade for a religion course should be included in the grade average of all school subjects continues to bubble. The previous education minister, an ultra-conservative Catholic, had ordered the grade for Catholicism to be included in the average.

The current minister signaled that he would reverse that decision and now the prime minister has overruled the new minister. Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s reversal of Minister of Education Ryszard Legutko’s decision came after Catholic Church officials protested. The course, in which students learn about the Bible and Catholic tradition, is not mandatory.

In keeping with the Constitution’s freedom of religious choice, students, who are non-religious or who belong to a religion other than Catholicism, don’t have to take the course. However, all students must take either the Catholicism course or an ethics course that many schools don’t offer.

So in practice 95 percent of students take the religion course. Former Education Minister Roman Giertych, of the Catholic Church-affiliated League of Polish Families Party, issued the religion grade policy as part of the grade average on July 13 of this year. Legutko, who succeeded Giertych, said in an interview with the Warsaw-based Fakt daily last week that he was likely to reverse the policy. He said: “We have to assess whether it is constitutional.”

Archibishop Leszek Slawoj Glodz, head of the Polish Catholic Church’s Media Council, immediately labeled Legutko’s remarks “detrimental” and “imprudent.” He said excluding a course on religion from the grade-point average is “discriminating against believers of different religions.” The Kaczynski regime supported the Church.

“The grade on religion will be included in the grade average of all school subjects,” the Government Information Center confirmed. Giertych said in an interview with Warsaw-based Radio Zet on Monday that the law prohibits Legutko from changing the policy without consulting the church by a policy that seems to intrude on students’ religious choice.

The Democratic Left Alliance Party, or SLD, said it would ask the Polish Constitutional Court to decide whether the policy is constitutional. “Religion is one of a whole number of subjects in Polish schools that are not mandatory, and only mandatory subjects should be included in the grade average,” said Wojciech Olejniczak, the SLD’s chief party representative.

“The choice between a religion and ethics course is mostly an illusion,” Olejniczak said. “In 90 percent of Polish schools, the subject Ethics doesn’t exist.” Church officials say the priests who grade the religion course take into account both students’ knowledge of the subject matter and their worship habits. That kind of grading policy discriminates against students who don’t want to participate in religious ceremonies, Olejniczak said.

Defending the grading practice, church spokeswoman Halina Bortnowska said “religion is not only knowledge; it is also feelings.” Olejniczak also objected that not every priest is educated enough to work as a teacher. “These are the main reasons a religion course shouldn’t be included in the school curriculum grading system,” he said.

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