Extract from TDI’s study Assessment of the Needs of Religious Organizations in Georgia, conducted in 2014
Summary: Representatives of nearly all religious organizations note that despite the secular and liberal legal regulations , discimination on religious grounds at public educational institutions is one of the most prominent issues.Instances of proselytization is frequent in public schools, where members of school administration and teachers initiate taking students to churches and cermons, collective prayer, display of religious symbols for non-academic purposes, and set up of prayer corners. It has also become a common practice instituted by school administrations to invite Christian religious representatives for sermons and conducting religious rituals (blessing, consecration, public prayer). Worst of all, teachers and students humiliate members of religious minorities and there are reports of instances of indoctrination such as attempts to baptize students belonging to other religious confessions.
Georgian Language and Literature and History textbooks do not teach culture of toleration and respect of those with different beliefs. As a rule, rather than depicting the rich historical and cultural significance of the non-dominant religious confessions in Georgia, teachers and textbooks hide this heritage.
Furthermore, the national academic calendar does not consider religious minority interests, protected by Georgian legislation.
Finally, parents of students belonging to minority religious confessions avoid shedding public light on the problem public due to their fear that showing resistance might further deteriorate their child’s treatment. For these reasons, public education of Georgia must undergo total desecularization.
Discussion: According to the respondents interviewed for the study, one of the most problematic issues in public schools is the practice of collective Orthodox prayer, in which members of minority religious confessions unintentionally participate as well.
“There were instances of mass Communion [at the Gori #12 Public School]; They took students to church for Communion on a voluntary basis. They say this was voluntary, but those who don’t go are stigmatized” – says Shmagi Chankvetatdze, the Evangelical-Protestant Church pastor.
“My niece told me a year ago that she shouldn’t go to school wearing trousers on Friday. It appeared that on Fridays, when they were supposed to have a gym class, the teacher regularly canceled the class and took students to the nearby church” – says Rusudan Gotsiridze, the bishop of Evangelical-Baptist Church.
Respondents also report cases of confessional ranking. Students belonging to the religious organizations that were established relatively recently are victims of greater aggression. Teachers and students frequently use epiteths such as “sectant” and “Jehovah” as insults. Jehovah’s Witnesses are the most marginalized religious group and are treated with hatred and discrimination both, by members of school administration and teachers as well as by students.
That said, instances of intolerance are observed against the so called “traditional” religious confessions as well. For example, Orthodox Christians of the Adigeni municipality village at times refer to Catholics in a negative context as the “Papists.” There are multiple instances of teachers and school administration members treating ethnically Georgian Muslims with humiliation, calling them “Tatars,” faithless,” and “enemies,” and tell them to convert back to “the faith of their ancestors.”
“Sectarianism is betrayal of the motherland – a teachers told a child of one of the members of our parish” – Shmagi Chankvetadze, pastor at Evangelical-Prostestant Church.
“We knew about a multi-sibling family in village Tianeti with income below poverty threshold. Members of that family belong to our parish. We decided to ask a television broadcaster to feature them in their program so that the family could receive aid from appropriate governmental or non-governmental entities. In the mean time, we found out that the Director of the school spoke with one of the children and said that it was embarassing that the child was secratian. The Director told the child to get baptized in a Christian Orthodox church if he/she wanted the TV feature to be shot. Residents of the village make statements like this, that we are poor because we’ve gone astray” – Lela Khonelidze, Head of the Public Relations department at Georgian Pentecostal Church.
“There was an instance in the Ude #2 Public School of a nun preaching during a history lesson that Catholics are torturers. Parents must confess, or else their families would go extinct” – Father Mikheil Surmava, Caucasian Latin Catholic Apostolic Church Administration.
According to the survey conducted by TDI, Georgian public school teachers, as a rule, don’t discuss the use of religious symbols as a violation of Law on General Education and the principles of neutrality. For them, public display of religious symbols on the school territory serves legitimate aims.
“Students initiated creation of a corner of icons in several classrooms. I think that forbidding students to do this in Mtskheta is unjustified” – Nana Bokhua, Director of LEPL City Mtskheta #2 Public School.
“Since 1998, when Religion was taught as an academic subject in schools, they have placed religious symbols such as Karibche Mother of Christ icon, Jesus Christ, Saint George, icon of King Tamar, Archangel, Saint Nikoloz and Palm Day icons in 12 square meter rooms, The existence of the above-mentioned religious symbols serves the purpose of celebrating holidays and historical dates, as well as holding events that serve the establishment of national and general values” – A. Burchuladze, Director of LEPL City Tbilisi #213 Public School.
“There are religious corners in classrooms as a result of student requests and the school yard also hosts the Church of Saint Gabriel” – Nugzar Chakvetadze, Director of LEPL City Kutaisi #11 Public School.
“…we’ve created a small place for prayer on the first floor of the school. It’s one of the teaching resources and contributes to meeting the goals and standards of the science National Curriculum” – Ketevan Abuladze, Director of City Tbilisi #126 Public School.
Despite the scale and systemic nature of religious discrimination in public schools, identification of legal violations is complicated by the fact that parents of students belonging to minority religious confessions refrain from addressing the Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia and human rights organizations with complaints . According to them, this will only complicate the state of things and will lead to their children being stigmatized.
Another challenge that hinders precise description of the situation at hand is that in accordance with the Article 13.2 of the Georgian Law on General Education, the Ministry of Education and Science does not keep statistics on appeals against legal offenses committed by teachers.
As a result, the Ministry does not hold any information on the disciplinary punishment served by teachers for legal offenses. TDI conducted a nation-wide survey at forty schools and none of them confirmed the existence of appeals against teachers.
Consideration of the interests of religious minorities in school calendars: There is another problem in addition to the clear violations of the Law on Public Education in school space and during the educational process – development of the academic calendar at educational institutions. Some respondents inform that the Ministry does not consider interests of some religious followers when scheduling national exams and school olympics. For example, Seventh-day Christian Adventists have a holiday every Saturday and believers are not participate in secular activities. According to the church pastor, Boris Charaia, exams are frequently held on Saturdays. Despite the recommendations of the Tolerance Center under the auspices of the Public Defender, the religious organization has to file official requests to treat the absence from the examination as excusable or to move the examination to another date on an individual basis with each instance.
To the Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia
• It is necessary to create a special monitoring and response group in order to reveal instances of proselytization, intoctrinization, and display of religious symbols for non-academic purposes. Ministry of Education and Science, Public Defender, and non-governmental organization stakeholders can join their efforts in doing so.
• The monitoring group should deliver information on religious discrimination to the appropriate law enforcement agencies.
• The monitoring and response group, together with the appropriate experts, must develop guildelines for public school directors and teachers, providing specific instructions for protecting religious neutrality and promoting a tolerant environment.
• The group must report annually on the situation at public schools.
• The Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia must develop an action plan for performing active work on protecting religious freedom and establishing the culture of tolerance in public schools. It must hold events encouraging the culture of tolerance, student and teacher conferences, contests, quizzes, discussions, etc.
• LEPL National Center for Teachers’ Professional Development continuous professional development programs must have an improved interconfessional and intercultural component.
• It is necessary to evaluate teachers’ attitudes toward toleration as a part of the Teacher Certification Examination.
• It is necessary for the Director’s Standard to include the demand for candidates to possess skills for provision of intercultural education and creation of a tolerant environment.
• It is necessary to revise textbooks of Georgian Language and Literature, History, Culture, and Civic Education and relay to students neutral and balanced information; it is necessary for these textbooks to reflect tolerant ideas and principles of religious-ethnic diversity. The study of History, Literature, Culture, Civic Education, and various fields of Art should serve the development of respect toward diversity and tolerance rather than the spread of intollerance.
• It is important that a clause on satisfying criteria for including content geared toward developing non-stereotypical and diverse thinking be included in the process of textbook approval. Textbooks that do not satisfy these criteria should be denied approval.