From : Susan Naidoff
Subject : Could it happen here?
This article appeared in the New York Times on Thurs., April 22, 1993
POLISH CHURCH WINS COURT FIT ON SCHOOL RELIGION...by Jane Perlez
WARSAW, April 21 - The roman catholic church won a significant victory
here today when a constitutional tribunal dismissed a legal challenge to
compulsory religious teaching and prayers in public schools. The
challenge was brought by the government-appointed ombudsman on human
rights, Tadeusz Zielinski, a law professor and prominent liberal
catholic, who argued that the teaching of religion was turning Poland
into a theocracy. The rules making religion a compulsory subject with
grades on a student's report card were introduced last year.
In its decision the tribunal, which has the power to decide the
constitutionality of Poland's laws, voted against the ombudsman on five
issues but ruled in his favor on three minor matters in his challenge.
The tribunal said it was constitutional for compulsory religious
instruction to continue and for a cross to hang in classrooms for all
times, not just during the religion class. Mr. Zielinski, who was
appointed ombudsman by Parliament last year, said he had brought the
challenge because "we observe the growing interference and pressure of
the church on all the three branches - legislative, executive and
judiciary. I am afraid we are now standing at the gates of a religious
Angered by the charges of church interference, the catholic primate of
Poland, Jozef cardinal Glemp, had condemned the hearing before the
tribunal as a spectacle and an effort to put religion on trial. Tonight
the cardinal, who appeared ebullient after the decision favoring the
church, said, "we think that the believers have the right to be present
in public life." While fewer Poles are attending church regularly and
the number of entrants to the clergy has dropped, cardinal Glemp has won
a string of political victories in the last year. The church rallied
behind the recently adopted anti-abortion law and won passage of a law
this year that requires the news media to conform to "christian values."
As well as declaring that compulsory religious classes should continue
as a subject graded with equal weight as all others, the tribunal also
said that it was legal for prayers to be said at the beginning of each
class and at the end. Prayers are not the exclusive domain of religious
instruction, it said. Parents have been able to withdraw their children
from the religious classes if they put the request in writing. The
tribunal ruled that it was illegal to demand these written declarations.
Many parents in the major cities say their children feel such social
pressure in school to attend the religious classes that the option of
not attending, whether it be in writing or orally, is difficult to
Mr. Zielinski said after his loss today that he could not pursue the
matter further but that Parliament could take up the ruling. A
two-thirds majority is needed to overturn a ruling by the tribunal, and
such a majority is unlikely, officials said.
This article brought back a flood of memories into my psyche from the
time of my own grade-school attendence. This was in the 1950's, and from
grades k-5, I attended public school where bible reading after the
pledge of allegiance (which I might say did not contain the "under god"
reference then) was required. Each student had the weekly chore of
leading the class in reading the 23rd psalm, out loud, in front of the
entire class. I distinctly remember doing it, but having no feelings
about it at all. As it undoubtedly was so obtuse, I don't even remember
what it was attempting to propose. Even though I was forced to engage in
these activities, and much worse religiously-inspired repression later
in grades 6-10 at the hands of parochial school nuns, all this proved to
have no effect on my non-belief whatsoever. The amusing ending to this
ancecdote is that on April 1st in my sophomore year, I was expelled from
the catholic school, for heresy, I suppose. No fooling!
* OLX 2.2 * Against abortion? Don't have one!