An appeal against German laws which forbids parents from taking their children out of sex education classes has been dismissed by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) as “manifestly ill-founded”.
Five German couples had appealed to the ECHR after they had been jailed for refusing to pay fines for removing their children from sex education classes. However, last month, the Court ruled that the parents’ appeal was inadmissible.
Responding to the ruling, Benjamin Bull, Chief Counsel with the Alliance Defence Fund, a US group which assists people who seek to vindicate their religious freedom in the courts, said: “Parents should have the final say about the education of their own children.
“The decision by the European Court of Human Rights opens the door to continued prosecution” of parents.
The applicants, Willi and Anna Dojan, Theodor and Lydia Fröhlich, Artur and Anna Wiens, Eduard and Rita Wiens, and Heinrich and Irene Wiens, argued that the authorities’ refusal to exempt their children from sex education classes constituted a disproportionate restriction of their right to educate their children in conformity with their religious convictions.
They argued that Germany’s stance on the matter was in breach of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 (right to education) to the European Convention on Human Rights and Articles 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) and 8 (right to respect for private and family life).
However, in a ruling on September 22nd, the Court upheld Germany’s policy of compelling children to attend sex education class against the wishes of their parents.
The Court found that the objectives outlined by Germany’s domestic courts in respect of the sex education classes, namely that they were “ necessary to enable children to deal critically with influences from society” were consistent with the principles of pluralism and objectivity embodied in Article 2 of Protocol No. 1.
It ruled that the classes and activities in question had not interfered with “the parents’ sexual education of their children based on their religious convictions”.
It added that the school authorities had not “manifested a preference for a particular religion or belief within those activities”.
The Convention, it said, “did not guarantee the right not to be confronted with opinions that were opposed to one’s own convictions. The applicants had furthermore been free to educate their children after school and at weekends in conformity with their religious convictions.”
The German authorities, the court ruled, “had not overstepped their margin of appreciation under Article 2 of Protocol No. 1”.
It said that the fines imposed on the parents had not been excessive, and that the prison sentences imposed “had not constituted a sanction for the administrative offence they had committed but had solely been a means to enforce their payment obligation”.
“The complaint therefore had to be rejected as manifestly ill-founded,” it concluded.
The parents had objected in particular to the content of a book to be used for sex education classes, which they held was partly pornographic and contrary to their moral outlook. The parents were separately fined €75 for taking their children out of sex education classes.
In January and February 2007, Mr and Mrs Dojan, one of the complainant couples, took one of their daughters out of school while a theatre workshop entitled “My body is mine” was held, as they regarded the workshop and the complementary lessons as harmful to the moral development of their daughter.
They were fined EUR 120 each. In February 2007, Eduard and Rita Wiens prevented one of their children, and Heinrich and Irene Wiens prevented three of their children, from attending the theatre workshop.
The fines were upheld by the German courts, and three of the couples continued to prevent several of their children from attending the same education modules and school events.
They were subject to increasing fines, which they refused to pay. As a result, they were each sentenced to 43 days in prison.