Religious Education in Public Schools: An International Human Rights Perspective

Posted: 15 Aug 2008

See all articles by Carolyn M. Evans

Carolyn M. Evans

University of Melbourne - Melbourne Law School

Date Written: 2008


The question of whether and how public schools in Europe (and, indeed, in liberal democracies more generally) should introduce religion into the classroom has become increasingly important. Children need to be given the tools to understand the role of religion in their society and in the world, but they must be protected from indoctrination by their teachers or school officials. This article takes international human rights principles as a standard against which different approaches to incorporating education about religion into public school curricula can be judged. It argues that plural religious education is the approach to religion in public schools that best complies with international human rights standards. The recently drafted Toledo Guidelines are recommended as providing useful guidance to States that seek a rights consistent approach to this issue. Both these guidelines and the relevant case-law of European and United Nations human rights bodies are analysed and the key guiding principles relating to religious education in public schools are examined to demonstrate both the utility of the international human rights approach and its current limitations.

Suggested Citation

Evans, Carolyn M., Religious Education in Public Schools: An International Human Rights Perspective (2008). Human Rights Law Review, Vol. 8, Issue 3, pp. 449-473, 2008. Available at SSRN: or

Carolyn M. Evans (Contact Author)

University of Melbourne - Melbourne Law School ( email )

University Square
185 Pelham Street, Carlton
Victoria, Victoria 3010
613 8344 1102 (Phone)
613 8344 9900 (Fax)

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