Political parties argue over religious freedom

By August 23, 2012

Turkey (MNN) — Claiming Christ in Turkey usually means losing your life. This fact is reflected in the nation's ranking as #31 on the Open Doors World Watch List for persecuted Christians. Things could change with a provision in the country's new constitution, but according to the Forum 18 News Service, conflicting opinions stand in the way.

If there is to be a provision protecting freedom of religion in Turkey's new constitution, members of the Constitutional Reconciliation Commission (AUK) must all agree upon its terms. Religious groups throughout Turkey hope to see protections for a few key things, namely the right to establish schools where religious training can be provided, the right for religious organizations to acquire legal status, the right to establish places of worship, and the right to appoint religious leaders in accordance with their respective traditions.

Forum 18 says conflict mainly lies between proposals from two groups: the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Republican People's Party (CHP).

The AKP's proposal provides freedom of religion for every citizen and broadens protection of this freedom to include religious practices, clothing and symbols. Controversy lies in the Education and Conscientious Objection sections of this proposal, which both reflect the government's political will. Under this proposal, divisive Religious Culture and Knowledge of Ethics (RCKE) courses would still be required, and citizens would not have the right of conscientious objection to military service.

This right is protected under the CHP's proposal. The CHP also proposed a provision that would cause Turkey to respect social pluralism and observe an equal distance toward all religions.

The AKP's refusal to accept proposals from the CHP could signal the ruling party's future policies concerning religious freedom. Forum 18 says that refusing to take two specific actions–abolishing compulsory RCKE lessons and changing the Diyanet–aligns the AKP with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's intentions "to raise an [Islamic] religious generation."

A new constitution was hoped for by year's end, but now that seems unlikely. Read more about the drafting of Turkey's new constitution.


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