A right to believe, and teachIn a free society, religion should be a choice, not an obligation. The Constitution guarantees the freedom of religion, which includes the right to be a non-believer and not to have faith forced upon you.
The Supreme Court has safeguarded this constitutional right by requiring freedom of religious choice in Christian private schools.
It ruled in favor of 24-year-old law student Kang Ui-seok in his lawsuit against his alma mater Daekwang High School, claiming the school’s chapel and religious education have gone beyond society’s common sense and legal sentiment, and therefore are unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court’s ruling is meaningful in that it has set a guideline on the extent of religious education allowable in Christian and other missionary schools. It is the first legal precedent on the rights of a non-believer who is placed in a religious school against his or her will.
The guidelines essentially call for the student to be given a sufficient explanation of the school’s religious services and education before entering the school, and for the student to be allowed to choose not to attend chapel services and courses without suffering a disadvantage. It is not unreasonable to demand a school environment that allows freedom of choice in religious practice and learning.
Christian schools should revamp religious education to conform to the new set of guidelines. They should no longer force chapel and Bible studies universally on students. To have what to believe and learn forced upon them could be damaging for teenagers.
Such religious enforcement goes against not only educational principle but also the religion of Christianity, which preaches primarily love and compassion.
Missionary schools may regard the criticism of their educational policies as unjust. Since the government has decided to randomly place students in different schools, however, Christian schools must accept non-believers among their students.
If they ended their religious lessons, the missionary purpose behind their establishment would be undermined. Instead of insisting on uniform religious studies, they must consider a voluntary curriculum and offer placement priority to students of faith. Of course, students of faith will have no problem accepting religious courses.
Each school’s freedom to provide education on religion should be respected just like a student’s right to choose a religion. We hope the ruling will end disputes over religious education on school campuses.