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"A secular constitution that everyone in Sri Lanka can subscribe to, and feel a sense of belonging in; regardless of their ethnic origin or religious convictions or lack of thereof; is a big step towards the correct direction."

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Secular Ethics shall Replace Religion in Public Schools in Sri Lanka

Under current policies in effect, the Department of Education of Sri Lanka requires that all children in public schools to be religiously indoctrinated from kindergarten through junior high school (grade 10). We firmly believe this is unconstitutional even under the fundamental rights provisions in the current Constitution in Sri Lanka, and this should be challenged in Supreme Court by secular parents and children. Under current public education policies placed in practice nationwide, a parent or child has no choice in this enforced religious education, and to prevent his or her child from religious education, except for choosing between the mainstream religions of Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. Freedom for Religion shall include Freedom From Religion, and this religious education can be challenged in the Supreme Court by qualifying parents and children. G.C.E. O/L examinations conducted by the Department of Education requires every student to take an examination in one of the four mainstream religions without giving a choice to opt out. This practice violates the rights of non-believers even under the current Constitution of Sri Lanka.

We firmly argue that public tax payer money shall not be spent on religious indoctrination inside public schools. Religious education is a matter to decide by the private citizens and government should have no right to participate in enforcement or providing a landscape for entertaining religious dogma within public tax payer funded educational institutions. A parent or a child who wish to participate in any religious learning may be left free to attend private religious schools in Buddhist Temples, Kovils, Mosques or any other privately funded institutions that provide such services outside of the public school network.

Teaching 'Religions of the World' inside schools is another topic that is widely discussed. This form of comparative study may not be harmful as long as the practice of it guaranteed to be fair, includes all religions, and not enforced as mandatory requirement. We think such avenues for comparative religion as a subject needs further research and studies, and some secularists have suggested this alternative approach would open doors for people to think about other people's religions. Implementation of a fair and impartial environment inside public schools to foster comparative religion is out of reach under current social and political environment in Sri Lanka. Teaching all major religions in equal proportion and setting as a comparative study may be a good start to further social reforms. In many countries such comparative religion courses are available at university level, and this is an area that needs further consideration by the academic community and public educators. We also think such allowances may need to be a topic to address after Sri Lanka becomes a truly secular society.

Recommendations of Secularists of Sri Lanka to the Department of Education of Sri Lanka

We firmly recommend that religious indoctrination inside public schools should be replaced with Secular Ethics curriculum with consideration of modern scientific understanding of human nature, physical and social needs, human evolution, human DNA based system of ethics.

This Ethics education curriculum shall includes:

1. Human Rights - Meeting International Standards on Human Rights addressing United Nation guidelines
2. Equal Opportunity
3. Affirmative Action
4. Non-discrimination laws on employment, military service, social ethics based on global understanding of humanity. Teaching children and encourage non discriminative behavior on issues of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation or national origin
5. Animal Rights based on Secular Ethics, and International standards in prevention of cruelty to animals
6. Good citizenship - encourage participation in democratic elections, non-violent campaigns to reach local poltician on social issues
7. Children and Women Rights based on International Standards
8. Constitutional Rights - fundamental rights education based on provisions in the Constitution

This approach to Secular Ethics education is very much common in other countries, and has been extremely successful in countries such as Japan and the EU. Citizens of these countries have a higher moral standard and ethical behavior than what we see in Sri Lanka when we consider their human rights record, prevailing social issues, crime rates and individual satisfaction about their lives. Sri Lanka should take the current opportunity of peace and stability in our democracy to further advancement of rights and values of its citizens by initiating social reforms and public education reforms by changing curriculum of public education. We believe Department of Education has this responsibility, and public policy shall provide the necessary guidance.

Secular Citizens Must Take Action

1. Secularists should demand public education institution officials, school principals and class teachers to release their children from religious education. Ask your child's class teacher to send your child to the school library or another classroom during religion class periods.

2. Write to the Minister of Education demanding Freedom From Religion.

Ministry of Education,
Sri Lanka.
Phone : +94-11-2785141 to +94-11-2785150
To Contact the current Minister of Education or branches and Sections please use the staff directory.

3. Write to the President of Sri Lanka demanding political initiatives for public policy reforms required for secularization of public schools.

4. Teach your children latest secular views on ethics and morality and discuss openly on topics that religions consider taboo, immoral and unethical. Educate your children under 'Science based Ethics and Morality' that is dynamic and ever changing with our advancements in science, technology and society.

5. Suggest to Curriculum Developers, Text Book Authors on Religion for public schools to include Secular Ethics, Secular Moral Values and give provision for all religions of the world. These steps may be encouraged only as a secondary alternative solution where complete removal of religion becomes not possible due to current policies.

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