What about school? Freedom of religion and upbringing and education

What about school? Freedom of religion and upbringing and education

Religious education at home, religious education at school - for some this issues are obvious, for others controversial. How are these matters regulated by Polish law and what scope of freedom does it assign to children, parents and teachers?

The parents' right to bring up their children in accordance with their own religious and philosophical convictions has been expressed in international documents, including in art. 2 of Protocol no. 1 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, in art. 14

of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, in art. 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as in art. 14 and art. 18, sec. 1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Under domestic law, freedom of conscience and religion is guaranteed in art. 53 of the Constitution. It also includes the parents' right to provide their children with moral and religious education and teaching in accordance with their convictions. In art. 48, sec. 1 of the Constitution, the same right was expressed, with the proviso that education should take into account the degree

the child's maturity, as well as his freedom of conscience and religion and beliefs. The right of children to freedom of thought, conscience and religion was also ensured in art. 14 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and here, in sec. 2, the "rights and obligations of parents or, where applicable, legal guardians to guide the child in exercising his right in a manner consistent with the child's developing abilities”. Moreover, the limits of parental freedom are set by other constitutional norms, e.g. the right to education and expressed in art. 70, sec. 1 of the Constitution, compulsory education until the age of 18. In turn, in art. 27, sec. 1 of the Act on Guarantees of Freedom of Conscience and Religion states that the activity of churches and other religious associations cannot

violate the provisions of generally applicable laws protecting public safety, order, health or public morality, parental authority or the fundamental rights and freedoms of other people. This means the primacy of the will of parents over the catechetical activity of churches and religious associations.

An issue that requires clarification, and not clearly defined in the regulations, is the age at which a child reaches maturity to a degree that allows increasing the scope of independence and reducing the participation of parents in its upbringing. By analyzing positions

psychologists, and taking into account the legal solutions adopted in various areas of life, Izabela Lach recognizes that "each case should be considered individually, excluding any manifestations of automatism in making decisions. It cannot be assumed that a child has the right to decide on matters of such importance to him from the age specified by law, because each child develops at an individual pace.

It should be emphasized once again the role of parents whose task it is appropriate to define the moment from which their educational rights should slowly give way in favor of the child's right to freely choose their moral values and religious beliefs”1. It should be noted that in the upbringing process conducted in accordance with the will of the parents, the child's best interests are the priority. This is also clearly indicated by the Family and Guardianship Code, which in art. 95 § 3 states that "parental responsibility should be exercised as required by the best interests of the child and the social interest". In art. 95 § 4 of the Code, it is emphasized that "parents, before taking decisions on more important matters concerning the person or property of the child, should listen to them, if the child's mental development, health and maturity allows it, and take into account his reasonable wishes as much as possible".

Article 53 of the Constitution includes the freedom to express one's religious beliefs, inter alia, through teaching. It stipulates that the religion of a church or other religious association with a regulated legal situation may be taught at school, while the freedom of conscience and religion of other people may not be violated. In the case of the educational system, this will mean, on the one hand, enabling minors to participate in catechetical classes, and, on the other hand, not being able to force minors to participate in such classes.

Pursuant to the Act on the Education System, public kindergartens and primary schools organize religious education at the request of parents, public secondary schools at the request of either parents or students themselves; after reaching the age of majority, students decide to study religion (art. 12.1). In practice, this means that religion classes are present in all schools, although they are not compulsory - the will to participate in religion classes is declared through a declaration2. Article 13 obliges schools and public institutions to enable students to maintain a sense of national, ethnic, linguistic and religious identity, in particular learning the language and their own history and culture. The school is required by law to provide lessons for any registered religion if at least seven students at the school express interest in such lessons. Upon students' request, non-compulsory ethics lessons can be organized - participation in them is voluntary even when students decide not to attend religion lessons, and also requires a declaration3.

Importantly, according to the Act, teachers and other persons performing functions or working in educational institutions are obliged to keep confidential information obtained in connection with their function or work performed, and related to the health, development and educational needs, psychophysical possibilities, sexuality, sexual orientation, racial or ethnic origin, political views, religious or philosophical beliefs of students.

The regulation of the Minister of National Education of April 14, 1992 on the Conditions and Manner of Organizing Religious Education in Public Schools regulates in more detail the issue of teaching religion in schools. It obliges schools to organize classes in minority religions for interested people who form a group of at least 7 people. In the case of a smaller number of applications, it is permissible to organize classes in an inter-school form or in out-of-school catechetical center. The school is also obliged to provide care or educational classes to students who, themselves or through their parents / legal guardians, express their will not to participate in religion or ethics classes. Pursuant to the ordinance, religion is taught 2 hours a week, and the number of hours of ethics classes is determined by the school head. Grades in religion or ethics are included in the content of the school certificate, but the type of religion the student was taught is not indicated.

The grade in religion is included in the student's grade point average but it is not taken into account to promote the student to the next level. Paragraph 12 of the regulation also expressly states that “a cross may be placed in school rooms. Prayers can also be said at school before and after class. Praying at school should be an expression of the common aspirations of students as well as tact and delicacy on the part of teachers and educators ”.


The Laboratory of Religious Freedom team


  1. Lach, Dziecko jako podmiot wolności sumienia i wyznania, Warszawa 2016, p. 43.
  2. K. Więcek, Nauczanie religii katolickiej w polskiej szkole publicznej w kontekście prawa rodziców do wychowania religijnego dzieci – aspekty historyczne i wybrane aktualne problemy, „Studia z Prawa Wyznaniowego” 2013, vol. 16, p. 198−202.
  3. Ibidem, p. 200.



Autor: Laboratorium Wolności
Date: 20 October 2020
Financed from the Justice Fund, which is administered by the Minister of Justice
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