Tomorrow, Sunday 25th of April 2009 is an important day, at least for Christians in Germany and, more specifically, in Berlin. It is the day of the referendum about wether pupils and their parents have the free choice between ethics lessons (in theory neutral, in practice often biased or even openly hostile towards Christianity…I still remember very well what some teachers told us in other subject taught at public schools, and I also know what kind of pupils was enthusiastic about „neutral“ ethics lessons and was thinking about studying to become a teacher for that subject…) and religious instruction (let me repeat it: free choice between those possibilities. No one wants to force all children to religious instructions, school prayer or anything like that! ) on the one side and mandatory biased neutral ethics lessons with the possibility to attend extra lessons for religious instruction.
There might be some people who think that this isn’t really a big issue as long as it is possible to attend those 2 extra hours per week. Well. It still is possible. For how long?
Why is there no free choice between ethics and religion? If I was still in school or already had a child attending school in Berlin, why should I, go or sent my child to lessons that are hostile to my Church despite the states asserted neutrality when it comes to religion and philosophies of life in general?
My own experience with schools in Berlin ended in 2002 when I got my university-entrance diploma, the Abitur, after 13 years of going to school in Berlin, capital of Germany, both in the western part of the city and the eastern, post-communist part (we moved there about 4 years after the reunification). In the western part, during my first years at primary school, there never was a problem. Protestant children went to Protestant religious instruction (so did I, as a Protestant child at that time), the Catholics went to Catholic religious instruction, non-christian children, like the Muslims we had in our class or the (very few) children who where raised agnostic or atheist had the possibility to spend those two hours doing something fun like painting or playing or could attend remedial teaching lessons, one boy insisted on taking part in our Protestant lessons despite his mothers will to keep him away from anything religious (what we did was also mostly play and paint, but by doing this, we learned a lot). Free choice for every child. Then, in the two schools in the eastern part that I attended, one primary, one grammar school, the three that my brother attended (same primary school, but another grammar school before he attended the same school as I did) and from what friends told me, things were different.
It started in primary school where the school administration, responsible for the class schedule, did its best to choose a time for the (optional) religious instruction that was the least attractive one. 3 hours after the last regular lesson. Then, in grammar school, things got worse. The timetable was a bit better, but a lot of colleagues wouldn’t allow the religious instructions teacher to present himself for 5 minutes in the first week of the year (but other teachers who wanted to present their after-school clubs got much more than the 5 minutes the religious instruction teacher asked for…). During lessons (in my case especially during history lessons) there were teachers making constant remarks about all the „horrible crimes“ of the Church, about how outdated a belief was, that there was no scientific proof for Gods existence and therefore the faithful would be ignorant and so on.
At that time, there was the regular schedule and the free choice to stay 2 more hours per week for religious instructions.
Now, we have the regular schedule plus ethics lessons which weren’t compulsory before 2006 and the possibility to have extra religious instruction lessons (in the afternoon.) Pupils already spent very much time in school, have extracurricular activites like sports, instrument lessons, need time for homework and learning and probably would like to see their families and friends not only for 10 minutes a day. Time is a scarce ressource even for pupils at grammar schools in Berlin.
I was discussing this shortly with my mum. It seems like there’s currently a rather anti-Christianity attitude in Berlin, which she notices not only when talking to people she knows, but also from official sides, especially the current senate (socialdemocrats and socialists/the former communist party of the GDR. One of their members, Petra Pau, apparently had a press release that accusing the Catholic Church as well as the Protestants of starting a crusade…well, in my books dedicating tax payers money to get free choice between ethics and religion away deserves that term, too…) My mother has no idea how this referendum will end; leftists are usually very good in mobilizing people to vote, and as my mum sadly noticed, there’s a high chance that religion will lose that fight.
I hope she’s wrong.
(links in that post in german)