Religion is a major issue in Turkey because of the rise of Islam being promoted by many in the Turkish government including President Erdogan, who has made clear his desire to revive Turkey’s Ottoman past. However, there is another trend that exists in Turkey and must be watched, which is the rise of atheism, as atheism in Turkish history is often times synonymous with genocide and the persecution of Christians.
Even with the push from Erdogan for Islamization in Turkish schools and institutions, a major court ruling in Turkey has declared that religion classes are not compulsory, which while it can be a victory for the small Christian minority, is also a victory for the advancement of secularism and atheism:
Istanbul’s 4th Administrative Court has given its final judgement in a case where a parent requested her child be exempted from compulsory religion class. According to the court, religion class is “against the principle of equality.”
The parent had submitted a petition to the Uskudar District National Education Directorate on October 5, 2017. She was requesting that her child be exempted from compulsory religion class. The Istanbul Provincial National Education Directorate dismissed the petition on the grounds that the parent had to “document that they are Christian or Judaic.”
In the resulting court case, her lawyer argued that the current religious education concentrates on Sunni Islam and includes mechanisms about best practices for Islamic prayer and fasting. Her lawyer also highlighted two other verdicts stating that exemption should be granted to those who demand it. The lawyer also pointed to a constitutional article which says that “No one shall be forced to declare his or her beliefs or thoughts on religion.”
The outcome of this case has potentially positive consequences for Turkish Christians, most of whom come from a Muslim Background. Many have expressed problems in exempting their children from Islamic religious education as it is challenging to prove that they are now Christian. While the outcome of this court case is positive, whether it will have any practical outcome is questionable. This issue has repeatedly come up in court cases in the past, but the problems faced by Turkish Christians in exempting their children from religious education classes continue. (source)
The situation of religion in Turkish society must be watched closely. It will not change the eventual Turkish approach to Christians, be it from Muslims or atheists, which will result in a war against them, but what it can indicate is the proximity to such a conflict.