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Obligatory religion or ethics? Marcin Wiącek, Ombudsman, writes to Przemysław Czarnek

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Ombudsman Marcin Wiącek believes that since the Ministry of Education plans to significantly reform the teaching of religion and ethics in schools, it is justified on this occasion to “consider granting minors an independent opportunity to decide on participation in classes in accordance with their own worldview.”

In an interview for “Gazeta Polska” this spring, the minister of education, Przemysław Czarnek, announced that he wanted to eliminate the possibility of choosing one of three options in schools: either religion, ethics, or nothing. The minister sees a significant educational threat in the fact that some children and adolescents do not take part in religion or ethics lessons. – This “nothing” has become quite common, for example in big cities. And it is this “nothing” that helps to organize similar gatherings that take a completely unreflective approach to life – he referred to the demonstrations organized by the Women’s Strike. And he added: – Learning either religion or ethics will be obligatory so that any message about the value system can reach the youth.


In mid-July, Czarnek assured that “soon” the relevant provisions on ethics and religion would be ready. According to these announcements, compulsory education of one of the two subjects would be introduced in two years.

In November, however, there were still no relevant ministerial documents. Instead, the Ombudsman – Marcin Wiącek – spoke on the matter.

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A difficult choice when ethics is absent

Already at the beginning of his speech to Czarnek, Wiącek made a reservation in the context of religion and ethics that today “solving emerging problems and conflict situations in this area requires the great sensitivity of school principals and school management bodies”. It also reminds that the topic of introducing compulsory classes in these subjects is not entirely new. One of the previous Ombudsman – Janusz Kochanowski, who held this position in 2006-2010, had already dealt with him. Kochanowski, like Wiącek today, emphasized the limited possibility of attending ethics lessons.

In 2015, the Ombudsman Office published the report “Availability of religion lessons in minority denominations and ethics lessons in the school education system”. The data obtained at that time by the Ombudsman showed that ethics lessons were organized only in 11.3 percent. public schools. “In the following years, an increase in the number of schools where ethics lessons were organized was observed. However, it was still a definite minority of all educational institutions” – writes Wiącek to the minister of education.

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Consultation and a wider choice of universities are needed

The Ombudsman underlines that “in a matter so important for citizens, of fundamental importance for the sensitive respect for civil rights, it would be reasonable to subject the indicated draft to public consultations.” In his opinion, the introduction of the changes announced by Minister Czarnek would lead to “remodeling the Polish religious education system towards an integrated model”. What does it mean? “The difference would be that instead of one subject conveying knowledge of religion and ethics, there would be a need to choose between two subjects of different nature that would be treated by the state as equivalent in terms of the content conveyed. Such a situation may raise doubts in terms of the fullest possible respect for civil rights. “- explains Wiącek.

The Commissioner for Human Rights praises Minister Czarnek for announcements “concerning the implementation of the planned changes after two years and taking actions at that time to prepare schools for the implementation of new tasks”. First of all, it is about funding by MEiN postgraduate studies for ethics teachers at selected universities. “In the opinion of the Ombudsman, however, it would be reasonable to extend this offer also to other universities, including the largest Polish state universities, such as the University of Warsaw, the Jagiellonian University, or the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań.” – indicates Wiącek.

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A chance for young people

In the opinion of the Commissioner for Human Rights, the planned changes could also be an opportunity “to look at the problem of the autonomy of a young person in making a choice regarding participation in religion or ethics classes”. Wiącek thus informs that in the applications addressed to the Ombudsman, postulates are formulated regarding the lowering of the boundary for independent decisions about participation in religion or ethics lessons. Today it is decided by parents or adult students.

In the opinion of the Ombudsman, it is justified to “consider granting minors an independent possibility to decide about participation in classes in accordance with their own worldview”.

In his letter to Czarnek, Wiącek reminds that pursuant to Art. 48 sec. 1 of the Constitution of the Republic of Poland, “parents have the right to raise their children in accordance with their beliefs. This upbringing should take into account the child’s level of maturity, as well as the freedom of his conscience and religion as well as his convictions ”.

However, as we read later in the letter from the Commissioner for Human Rights: “The literature indicates the need to grant the child ‘a margin of his own autonomy, which expands with the child’s growing maturity, with his age, needs and aspirations.’ worldview should be left more to the young man. ”

What exactly does Wiącek propose? The Ombudsman considers two options. The first assumes that “it would be worth considering the introduction of autonomy in deciding on the choice of activities and granting it to minors from the age of 17 under the prepared amendment, emphasizing the need to consult the decision with the parent”. In this case, in the opinion of the Ombudsman, the model for the age limits could be e.g. regulations on juvenile delinquency proceedings.

There is also a second option. “Another alternative worth considering is granting autonomy in choosing classes when they start secondary school. This entitlement would give the child a chance to express his views and take into account his needs and aspirations. took a reflection on his role in society, the needs and direction of further education “- assessed the Human Rights Defender and asks the minister to respond to these proposals.

The entire letter of the Ombudsman to the minister of education


At tvn24.pl, we are looking at the ideas of Minister Przemysław Czarnek and his advisers. We translate the official language of laws and regulations into the language of school practice for you. We assess with experts whether what is behind these ideas and proposed solutions will be beneficial for students and teachers. We check whether school autonomy is at stake and whether parents will actually have an impact on the education and upbringing of their children. All this – articles, interviews, videos, interactive infographics, research reports – can be found on our website under the slogan #continuously.

Main photo source: ANSA / EPA / PAP

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