Prayer in Kindergarten, Primary Schools Is Legal, but Atheist Students may Be Excused, Greek High Court Says

ATHENS – Morning prayer and school religious services for kindergarten and primary school students is constitutional and legal, according to a decision by the Council of State plenary on Friday, but so is the right to waive attendance for reasons of religious conscience.

Greece's highest administrative court reviewed a presidential decree of 2017 that related to the organization and operation of the schools, and particularly the part related to a joint prayer with teachers, as well as observing worship services on specific holidays.

The court ruled that prayer, religious ceremonies and the teaching of religion in these early grades are "necessary means serving the constitutional purpose of developing a religious conscience in Greek citizens, according to article 16 and paragraph 2 of the constitution." As a result, it said, the law "is addressed exclusively to students who follow the Christian Orthodox dogma, not to students of other religions, other denominations or atheists."

In the latter case, it said, atheists "enjoy the right of religious freedom, established in article 13, paragraph 1 of the constitution, and have a direct right to be excused from prayer and religious ceremonies, without any adverse result, as long as their parents submit a statement that they do not wish their children to participate in prayer or worship services on grounds of religious conscience."

Schools that refuse to waiver attendance for religious differences will be violating the Greek constitution and contravening the European Convention on Human Rights, the Council of State underlined, striking out the relevant section of the presidential decree as invalid.


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