The Presence of Religious Symbols in Romanian Public Schools: Ethical Disputes and Legislative Interpretations

The Presence of Religious Symbols in Romanian Public Schools: Ethical Disputes and Legislative Interpretations

Vasile Cretu (University of Bucharest, Romania)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1427-6.ch013

Abstract

The presence of religious icons in Romanian public schools is a topic that has been and continues to be intensely discussed and even disputed in the country. The number of people who are against the presence of icons in classrooms is increasing. This paradigm could also be seen in other European countries. This chapter will present the situation of religious icons in public schools in Romania, past and present tendencies, as well as what the future holds for religious symbols as the legislative cover seems to diminish. The situation in Romania will be analyzed as compared to the status of religious icons in other European countries, the purpose being to understand the position of other Christian states on this issue as well.
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Introduction

Almost all religions around the world use symbols intensely. Rather than being a simple means of communication or relation indicators, religious symbols, in most of the situations, reflect historical development and philosophy of religions and have been used for centuries without change. Religious symbols also have a spiritual meaning as they reflect the common culture, history and lifestyle of the believers attached to a religion. An important feature of religious symbols, which distinguishes them from other symbols, is that they are unchangeable in time. Besides, being an important part of people’s life, religious symbols are often carried to other spheres of the social system. Depending on the level of the importance they attach to them, people carry them to public spheres as a symbol of the extension of their beliefs in the public area.

The presence of religious symbols and ceremonies in Romania’s public schools is an important topic which has been discussed by historians, intellectuals and politicians in Romania in the last seven decades. To be able to understand this matter, we have first to analyze the changes brought by the Communist regime starting from 1948. If in those times religion was attacked using the ideology of scientific socialism, today critics have another type of discourse and declare themselves fighters for human rights and equality, against discrimination of members belonging to other religions.

During Communism, the split between the state and the church was dramatic in Romania: the self-proclaimed atheist authorities persecuted religion in general and the Greek-Catholic and Neo-Protestant denominations in particular. Religion was eliminated from public schools in 1948 and, in the same year, religious icons were destroyed and pupils would no longer be allowed to pray at the beginning of the school day. Although there were protests from parents who threatened to withdraw their kids from schools if these measures were applied and the Communist Party promised to keep the icons in schools especially in rural areas, where faith remained strong, the icons were out of the classroom until the revolution in 1989.

After the fall of the Ceauşescu regime, churches began to recover the previously lost public space. The Romanian Orthodox Church has enjoyed the support of both the population and the political elite. Many orthodox churches were built, the Romanian Orthodox Church leaders were present at all important political and cultural events, new buildings were consecrated, various events such as cultural, educational, sportive, political, even business meetings, were blessed by Orthodox priests. Many people, who had been ignoring faith for the past 40 years, rediscovered religious fervor. One of the strong markers of this radical shift was precisely the display of icons in schools. (Horvath, Bako, 2009, p. 192).

In contemporary Europe, one of the most visible fields for expressing tensions between modernity and religion is school. The European deployment showed that the relationship between religion and education is dependent on two variables. The first one is connected to the way the State defines the educational purpose of religion in schools and the second one is linked to the historic traditions settled in time between the religious institutions and the State. Teodor Baconsky considers that ”there are two points of view: one which says that the school is a public space, non-confessional, neutral and void of any spiritual aspiration and another, that which says the contrary, that the presence of icons or crucifixes in schools generate a state of piety, obedience and respect, values which are good for a nation which has a confirmed and crushing majority of believers”. (Baconsky, 2006).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Recognized Denomination: Distinct religious body accepted and supported by the state, granting its status as a public institution.

Heritage: Valued objects and qualities such as historic buildings and cultural traditions that have been passed down from previous generations.

Unconstitutional: Unauthorized by or inconsistent with the constitution, as of a country.

Oppression: Prolonged cruel or unjust treatment or exercise of authority.

Neutral: Not supporting or helping either side in a conflict.

Tradition: A long-established custom or belief that has been passed on from one generation to another.

Discrimination: The unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people.

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