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The Strasbourg Court Is Beguiling Our Children!

Published on June 28, 2010 by: in: Politics

How nice it is to be the judge of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg – only obvious cases! The case brought in 2002 by the Grzelak family against Poland, concerning the lack of promised ethics lessons for the pupils who do not attend religion classes, was easy. There is no doubt that the contemporary law giving parents and their children the right to choose between the lessons of religion and ethics or the law from 2007 which cancelled out the first one and introduced the coercion of deciding are neither accordant with the democratic standards nor abided. Nobody who knows the case hesitates to admit that the students who do not attend religion classes are under a lot of pressure and can perceive their certificates as worse, not even mentioning the families where children attend the classes only in fear of being ostracised.


The regulations concerning religion and ethics lessons are unfair, similarly in other fields of the relation State – Church, meaning the relations Poland – Vatican.

The Church’s interest in the children not attending catechesis is dangerous and suspicious. What is your business with non-Catholic children? And what right do you have to affect their situation? I am just kidding, it is not about suspicions or questionings. Let us not be duplicitous or pretend to be an idiot.

As for now we have a stalemate. The regulations are lifeless as there is nobody to attend or teach ethics. After the sentence the things may get going. And at the same time the Catholic Church is even closer to its goal: the ethical message from Vatican to every Polish lass and lad.

Giertychian ethics

In all likelihood the Grzelak family do not know how it currently works. Here I am with an explanation. One day in 2006 some bishop tapped on the shoulder of the youngest of Aryans, Roman Giertych, and spoke: “so, mister Roman, we should have a crackdown on the ethics lessons, shouldn’t we? It was supposed to be the alternative to religion, and now there is nothing”. And the minister answered: “As you wish. And please let me apologise that I had not thought of it myself”. And there he went to the television to declare that the youngsters who did not attend religion lessons would have ethics instead. What philosophy professors could not achieve for decades, namely philosophy and ethics classes even voluntary, bishops have at their beck and call. But not completely. Somebody has to teach ethics and our teaching staff is sparse. But the rescue is coming – there are courses emerging at papal and bishop universities aimed at educating people capable of teaching ethics. One or two more years and cascades of ethicists will fall and they will explain to the obstinate and the wayward that admittedly human thought has been roving – the atheist thought, the liberal and even the hedonistic one – but there is only one real ethics: this one of dignity, of the natural law, of (yuk-yuk) IVF and of the teaching of the Holy Father. Perhaps there will be one or two schools in the whole Warsaw, where the teachers will not emphasise the right perspective, but even they will not dare to criticise the holiest and inspired teachings. And that is how Vatican will reach even those who tried to escape it and those who simply wanted to play truant not attending the religion lessons will be dragged right back to their classroom. Who can escape the Teaching? Perhaps some strange element, but we do not want it among us anyway. And last but not least, religion will no longer be some additional subject. It will become a real optional subject, like many others. And since it is easier to get a good mark in religion than in ethics, not many will be willing to play truant. However, there is one obstacle. Minister Giertych obviously did not understand well the concept and he naively thought ethics to be kind of guff: it is to be and not to be at the same time, just not to have anyone loitering around when the rest is at religion classes. That is why the smallest number of students at ethic classes was introduced (at the level of 7). If some seven pupils wanted to skip religion, then they were taken straight away to the ethics classes. With the smaller number one can try different tricks. Today though, after the obvious and how pleasant for the curia sentence of our favourite court this obstacle will disappear. Every sharpie, who does not want to attend religion will be pointed out: “Come here, loverboy, we will teach you some ethics!”. And before we will be provided with the qualified teachers, even a priest will do, won’t he?

Ethics as a punishment

It is not a common event for the European Court of Human Rights to give gifts to Vatican or the Catholic Church. However, this time they did so. The consequences can be tragic. Not only because the citizens’ right to freedom from religious indoctrination will be broken during tendentious religion lessons. Although it is disgraceful felony on citizens’ consciousness and liberty, we should realise some other effects of introducing ethics to schools – not even the only justifiable and saintly one, but also the ‘civilisation of death’ ethics – the ‘impious’ and ‘inhumane’ one. It does not matter if ethics is taught by Catholic or some laic philosophy universities’ graduates, as they will serve only one reason: they will provide the alibi for the hypocritical regulation pretending to be democracy by “giving people choice”. Thousands of children will be tortured maundering on along with their teachers at the absurd ethics lessons, only to prove that Poland is a country where one does not have to learn religion. In fact, it is only about punishing those who want to snatch the opportunity of getting some free time instead of religion classes.

Why the ethics lessons are necessarily absurd? I will answer honestly, as an ethicist. Firstly, ethics as a science is not well and there is not much to teach. Secondly, even a student of philosophy learns ethics for 60 to 120 hours and this with all certainty will not give him the material and the knowledge to teach at school for hundreds of hours (as a counterpart of religion, ethics should be taught for one hour every week throughout the whole school period!). Thirdly, as for now there are dozen people who know what is what in ethics and it is not probable that an ordinary university graduate should populate this elite group. Ethics in Poland (and not only) is in a very poor condition. So, even a philosophy student will design the lesson as little tittle-tattle. It would not be so scary, if it were not for the fourth. Fourthly, in ethics when someone does not know a hawk from a handsaw, he says not only stupidities but also immoral stupidities. As one ethics section – called the ethics of convictions – teaches: it is easy to sin with unwise and shallow judgement. However, almost everyone who does not know a thing about ethics feels – as a decent human being – qualified to cast judgements. As an old ethics teacher I get a headache when I am thinking about all of those abnormalities they are going to talk about at the ethics classes: either about “the care of human dignity” or those “impious” and “life adverse”. The Strasbourg Court – you are beguiling our children!

Translated by A. Kumycz

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About Jan Hartman

Professor of philosophy and a writer. He works at the Jagiellonian University of Cracow and in the philosophical magazine ‘Principia’. He is an author of nine books and numerous articles and essays

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