Saturday, March 01, 2008
Romania is one of those countries that, after the fall of supposedly atheistic communist governments, are still struggling with the place of religion in public life and in education. The new Romanian constitution goes beyond guaranteeing freedom of religion and explicitly endorses state support for religious organizations ("Religious cults shall be autonomous from the State and shall enjoy support from it, including the facilitation of religious assistance in the army, in hospitals, prisons, homes and orphanages." - article 29). Yes, that is right: religious cults are autonomous but they enjoy state support. In other words, they do what they want with taxpayer money. Historically established religious denominations get government recognition; this is a major issue, because in practice only those religions enjoy 'religious freedom' who are recognized by the government. In other words, "Recognized religions have the right to establish schools, teach religion in public schools, receive government funds to build churches, pay clergy salaries with state funds and subsidize clergy's housing expenses, broadcast religious programming on radio and television, apply for broadcasting licenses for denominational frequencies, and enjoy tax-exempt status." (source). Note that the majority of Romanians see absolutely no problems with the government giving money to religious organizations, including funding for teaching religion in public schools. Religious institutions enjoy almost unlimited trust from the public (as opposed to the senate, the parliament, or universities), and if you dare to criticize a priest or a religious organization, you will quickly find yourself under a flood of attacks from people of all walks of life.
In parallel with the state-supported resurgence of religious life, the boundaries between secular and religious education are getting blurred. At the end of 2006, the secretary of state for research and education at that time, Mihail Hardau, signed a ruling that eliminated virtually all references to evolution from the science standards for public schools. In the meantime, 73% of the Romanian high-school students already think that the universe and humans were created by God. Scientific literacy is so low in the country that very few people see this as a negative development; even some biology teachers say that Darwinism does not necessarily contradict creationism and it is out of date anyway. Most journalists and politicians who express an opinion on the subject only prove that they did not even take the time to look up the words "Darwinism" and "evolution" in a dictionary.
This is sad news for me. I learned basic biology in communist Romania, in the eighties, and at that time there was no place for God and creationism in biology classes.[Of course, that was about the only good thing about communism -- so I am delighted it is a thing of the past, do not get me wrong]. Although my understanding of evolution largely comes from popular science books rather than those old biology lectures, at least you could not finish high school without hearing about Darwin and evolution. Now it is different: it has become difficult to get through the public education system without being indoctrinated (on taxpayer money) with the dogma of your favorite religion, and you might only hear about Darwin in the context of outdated atheistic thinkers who are not relevant any more.
If you want to help, here is the email address of the Romanian Ministry of Education: email@example.com; more info here. Also, if you have a blog or website, feel free to spread the word. More people in Romania and outside Romania need to realize that the integrity of science education in one of the largest countries in Europe is at stake here.