Metin Camcigil, Former President of ASA
As a new development in Turkey’s gradual but steady reinstatement of religious education in all types of schools at all levels the Administration proposed to increase the number and hours of Koran courses in schools. After a renewed bout of usual objections from the intellectuals the President pleaded with the Chairman of the Religious Affairs Administration to postpone the submission of the proposal. The Chairman generously obliged, and said he would review the proposal.
In 1924 the Turkish Parliament adopted the law on Unitary of Education, which allowed only modern education and prohibited religious schools. The current Turkish Constitution also provides in its Article 174 that no provision of the Constitution may be understood and interpreted to be in contradiction of the reform statutes listed below, the objectives of which are to preserve the Republic’s laic character and to elevate the Turkish people above the level of contemporary civilization. The first statute among eight listed is the law on the Unification of Education. Article 42 also provides that education shall be given under Governmental control in conformity with contemporary scientific and educational principles; Educational institutions contrary to this provision shall not be allowed; Freedom of education does not supersede the observance of these Constitutional provisions. Finally, the Preamble provides that this Constitution has been adopted by public referendum on the understanding, inter alia, that religious beliefs shall be “categorically” kept out of state affairs and of politics. Since no provision of a statute may be interpreted to be in contradiction of its entirety and of its general spirit, the provision of Article 24, “the culture of religion and morals” will be a mandatory course in elementary and middle schools, may not be understood to giving authority to the Government to introduce courses on reading of Koran, on prayer, or on Islamic principles. Because, none of these is to teach “the culture of religion and morals”, but to inculcate the young minds in the religion itself. In view of the clear provisions mentioned above, courses on morals of Islamic faith may be in conformity with the Constitution, but courses on Koran itself or Islamic practice may not. Such actions are therefore clearly the consequence of intervention of religious beliefs in politics prohibited by the Preambular principles enshrined in the Constitution.
The Atatürk Society of America, noting that this type of breach of Constitution is not the first but rather systemic, and also noting that the result of such education on the fundamentals of the religion will be deprivation of the nation from rational education and advancement in science and technology, therefore it deviates Turkey from its course toward “contemporary civilization” set eighty years ago, wrote a letter to the Turkish President A. Necdet Sezer.