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Requiring Students to Attend Chapel without Providing Alternative Course Is a Violation of Freedom of Religion
In a case concerning the chapel requirements of a university, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea(Chairperson Young-ae Choi) made a decision that the President of the university concerned should take corrective measures to protect students’ freedom of religion, including providing an alternative course to the mandatory chapel class.
According to the complaint brought before the Commission, the school infringes upon students’ freedom of religion by requiring all students to complete chapel classes to graduate.
The Commission found from the investigation that the respondent school, a religious university founded based on Christian values, is focused on nurturing healthcare professionals. It does not have a Christian studies program or an admissions policy of accepting Christian students only.
The university, however, designated a chapel as a mandatory liberal arts course and requires all first-year students to attend a chapel with a view to spreading Christianity, which is the school’s founding principles. The school policy states that students who have not completed the chapel program cannot graduate without offering alternative courses for those who do not wish to attend chapel. The college application notice does not indicate that chapel attendance is mandatory and is a graduation requirement.
The respondent school said in response to the Commission‘s findings that the objectives of the chapel program is to promote an understanding of Christianity among non-Christian students and cultivate their intelligence to function as a valuable member of society, rather than compelling them to accept the Christian faith. However, the Commission is of the view that the chapel class provided by the school, which consists of sermon, prayer, praise and Bible reading, is little different from regular church services and thus can be seen as religious education that aims to spread Christianity.
While acknowledging that a private religious university has wide latitude to realize the religious founding principles through educational programs in accordance with the principles of the freedom of religion and university autonomy, the Commission stresses that a student’s consent is essential in the provision of religious courses designed to spread specific religious values and that the respondent school has violated students’ freedom of religion(negative freedom to not believe in a certain religion) by compelling their chapel attendance without seeking their consent.
The Commission further refuted the idea that a student’s choice to attend a certain college should be seen as a consent to religious education, pointing to the large share of private colleges and religious schools(more than 30 percent) in our society and the crucial role that school hierarchy plays in a student’s school choice.
With regards to the arguments that a student who chooses to go to a private religious college has an obligation to receive religious education that is provided by the school, the Commission points out that a private religious college, which is a type of educational institutions, is required to operate in a way that upholds students’ freedom of religion in accordance of related laws.
The Commission came to the conclusion that the best way for a private religious college to freely provide religious education without infringing on students’ freedom of religion and right to education is to allow students who do not believe in a specific religion to take an alternative course instead of a religious program and recommended the president of the respondent school to take corrective measures such as offering an alternative course to ensure the protection of students’ freedom of religion.