The European Union is not doing well in national referendums. In 1992, the Danes rejected the Maastricht Treaty. In 2005, France and the Netherlands rejected the Constitution for Europe. The Irish voted ‘no’ on several occasions. The European Union was recently questioned or rejected (by some) in Greece, Denmark, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom (Brexit) and Hungary. The loss of the European Union in national referendums can be attributed to a number of factors. Modernity causes feelings of unease. Citizens have growing concerns about globalisation, open markets and increased competition. They also have growing fears of mass migration. The European Union has proven not to be a good patron when it comes to the ambitious goal of an area of freedom, safety and justice. The Union is weakening and fails to take effective action in the case of violations of the rule of law in Poland and Hungary. In addition, national politicians resort to EU-bashing all too easily. The European Union is blamed for all kinds of ills, technocracy, arbitrariness, high unemployment figures in the southern Member States. Furthermore, some people don’t really understand the complex structure of the European Union and say it is undemocratic.J. Snel, ‘Editorial: Why Does the EU Keep Losing in Referenda, and What to Do about it?’, 41 European Law Review (2016), p. 779-780.
The truth is, after World War II, politicians had little faith in popular sovereignty (the advent of Hitler, the Pétain regime). In the 1950s, the process of European integration focused more on human rights (European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR)) and on economic integration by means of supranational institutions. The High Authority operated at a supranational level, above and independently of the governments of Member States, thus reducing the likelihood of war. To offer more stability in the continuing process of European integration, the influential European Court of Justice in Luxembourg – in the case of Les Verts (Case 294/83) – referred to the EEC Treaty as the constitutional charter on which the Community was based. The European Parliament, which represents citizens, was explicitly included in that constitutional structure, making European integration more democratic. Under the Maastricht Treaty (1992) – the reply to the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) – citizenship of the Union was implemented. A citizen is a person who is not only governed but who also takes part in the government. But it was striking that the Constitution for Europe was rejected by the French and Dutch citizens in 2005.
Is the Union’s citizenship able to carry the European Union? Will the European Union have to follow the route of the old nation states, where children are taught as early as primary school how they have to regard themselves and others as members of a national community, with plenty of attention for the state’s (national) history? Article 165 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) does provide some possibilities for that.K. Grimonprez, ‘The European Dimension in Citizenship Education: Unused Potential of Article 165 TFEU’, 39 European Law Review (2014), p. 3-26. But what kind of civic education are we talking about and what is the place for religious education? When it comes to general education the national perspective is no longer sufficient. For a better future of the European Union a more transnational and pluralistic perspective should be developed. Although the right to religious freedom is clearly established in the constitutions of European States, there are many different traditions, approaches and legal provisions for and attitudes towards religious education.Mercedes Llorent-Vaquero, ‘Religious Education in Public Schools in Western Europe’, International Education Studies, Vol. 11, No. 1 (2017), p. 155-164. In a broad sense it is possible to distuinguish between two overarching perspectives.P. Schreiner, ‘Religious Education in Europe – Situation and Developments’, Institute of Education, University of London, March 13, 2009. https://www.comenius.de/themen/Religionsunterricht_Religionspaedagogik/Religious_Education_in_Europe_Situation_Developments_2009.pdf (accessed 3 April 2019). On the one hand, it is perceived that religious education is old-fashioned and does not fit in a neutral State. On the other hand, there is the pluralistic perspective that religious education makes an important contribution to identity formation, orientation and dialogue. The American scholar Michael Walzer has suggested the pluralist perspective.
When we consider European civic education as educating people to become good European citizens, it could concern education to become a Union citizen. This can, to some extent, be compared to educating someone to become a citizen of, for instance, France, Germany or the United Kingdom. One potential concept is that a young Union citizen has to identify himself or herself with the objectives of the European Union as defined in the Union Treaty, promoting peace, its values and the welfare of its nations (Article 3 (1) of the TEU). In that case, you can only be a good Union citizen if you identify yourself with the interests of the Union. Students will have to be well aware of the general interest defined by the Union. They would also have to learn to subordinate their own interests to those of the Union as a whole so that the internal market is guaranteed. According to Article 26 (2) of the TFEU ‘the internal market shall comprise an area without internal borders in which the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital is ensured in accordance with the provisions of the Treaties.’ This internal market supports the creation of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe, in which decisions are taken as openly as possible and as closely as possible to the citizen (Article 1 of the TEU). They would also have to subordinate their own interests to a social market economy with high levels of competitiveness.
Furthermore, students would have to know about the history of European integration after the World War II: the Council of Europe, European Coal and Steel Community, European Economic Community, European Union, but also the roots of the European civilisation from a humanistic, religious and cultural point of view (Greeks, Romans, Christianity, Charlemagne, the reformation, Enlightenment, the Holocaust, etc.). The History of Europe and European public administration are important subjects. One option is to promote some kind of ‘constitutional patriotism’ with regard to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Together with the TEU and the TFEU (plus the ECHR and the constitutional traditions of the Member States), this charter forms the material constitution of the Union. Students would also have to learn to be loyal not just to the area and internal market, but also to the values of the European Union (Article 2 of the TEU).J.W. Sap, ‘Europese burgerschapsvorming in het onderwijs’, in: M. Laemers, M. Nolen, A. Overbeeke, H. Overes & R. van Schoonhoven (eds.), De houdbaarheid van het duale bestel. Overeenkomsten en verschillen tussen openbaar en bijzonder onderwijs 100 jaar na de Pacificatie, Den Haag: Sdu Uitgevers 2017, p. 137-156.
We could then teach Union citizens to commit to and defend those values, for example patroling the border of Poland for a year as good Union patriots, going on a foreign mission to Afghanistan for those values, or working as volunteers in a refugee camp in Greece. If the European Union really wants to make a difference in the world, it will need to become a meaningful political and military power. Students will be taught to be loyal to the collective of the Union, with Brussels as its capital. They would have to be able to sing the European anthem, whilst standing up, of course. Naturally, Union civic education will play a role in all subjects. A teacher teaching Union civic education will need to be a powerful model citizen of the Union. In class, he or she is the representative of the Union – and consequently all the Union’s citizens – of the institutions that can be regarded as federal government layer. Europe could then be regarded as some kind of faith and the teacher as the priest.
This poses an enormous problem: the morals of the objectives, the values, principles and interests of the Union are probably too ‘thin’ to truly motivate people. Community philosopher Michael Walzer (New York, 1935), the son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, defends an ethical pluralism, the untraceable diversity of moral convictions, a particularism without moral relativism. In principle, he regards morals as ‘thick’, manifesting themselves as 'thin’ on special occasions only, when the moral language is (temporarily) made suitable for special purposes.M. Walzer, Thick and Thin. Moral Argument at Home and Abroad, Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press 1994, p. 4. This may be meaningful for a brief period of time, but such thin universal morals will root in thick moral concepts out of necessity. According to Walzer, thin morals are often formulated negatively, for instance against injustice. As a way of example, Walzer shows that, despite the use of old-fashioned language, we are able to immediately comprehend a charge by the Prophet Isaiah (3:15):
‘What mean ye that ye beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor? said the Lord’.
After all, it is blatantly unjust: beating or crushing people and mistreating or cruelly oppressing the poor, the persons at stake. People are oppressed and affected to the core. However, we do not know with the same degree of certainty and unanimity when the poor are treated justly.M. Walzer, op. cit., p. 5. To find out exactly what a ruler should leave alone, we need to find out a lot more about the historic, social and cultural context. This is when we are faced with practical obstacles and exceptions. Unlike thin morality, thick morality is much more a case of compromises and subtleties. Walzer argues:M. Walzer, op. cit., p. 11.
‘Minimalism makes for a certain limited, though important and heartening, solidarity. It doesn’t make for a full-blooded universal doctrine. So we march for a while together, and then we return to our own parades. The idea of a moral minimum plays a part in each of these moments, not only in the first. It explains how it is that we come together; it warrants our separation. By its very thinness, it justifies us in returning to the thickness that is our own.’
In contrast with the thin morals of the State and those of a union of States such as the European UnionThe European Union is less strict than a federation (like the US) and more close-knit than a confederation of states (NATO). European democracy is of a composite nature, not a democracy but a demoicracy. with major differences between Member States, issues such as faith and personal beliefs are ‘thick’. This means they are rooted in society and the individuals who are members of or grew up in that society. When a teacher only works on the basis of ‘thin’ morals, it may be effective for a number of years (the European integration of the 1950s as a peace project, or against the Soviet Union), but when the class does not recognise the urgency, the Union teacher or Union priest might be regarded as ‘fake’ and no longer authentic. Stronger still, advocating free movement of people when external borders are poorly guarded will be experienced as something that only promotes chaos. The policy of the eurozone is experienced as nothing but leading, which results in unacceptable unemployment levels in southern Europe.
Suppose schools would be a place for religion. On the one hand, it would be possible to develop some kind of state religion of the European Union. However, this is not very realistic given the size of the population and the many religious communities in the European Union. On the other hand, it would be obvious to have a government-stipulated neutrality or laïcité (a clear church-state separation) like the French model. However, we would also encounter problems. The European Union cannot impose laïcité, because of the national identities of the Member States, the freedom of speech and religion, the principles of conferral of power, subsidiarity, equality and human dignity.N. Doe, Law and Religion in Europe. A Comparative Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press 2011; A. Overbeeke & J.W. Sap, ‘Het recht van de Europese Unie over religie en geloofsgemeenschappen’, in: L.C. van Drimmelen & T.J. van der Ploeg, Geloofsgemeenschappen en recht, Den Haag: Boom Juridische Uitgevers 2014, p. 267-291.
It would be wiser to recognise that the history and practice of Europe are rich in nuances. There is a plurality of worldviews in Europe.P. Schreiner, op. cit., p. 2. The promotion of intercultural dialogue is one of the priorities of the Council of Europe.L. Del Espino Díaz, ‘A Comparative Analyses of Religious Education in Europe and Educational Guidelines in the Framework of Interreligious Dialogue and a Culture of Peace’, Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, Vol. 9, No. 1 (2018), p. 47-53. Diversity is not a disadvantage but it is the strength and charm of Europe. It is this diversity that makes Europe the most exciting continent. The mix of European cultures is a source of mutual enrichment. A subject such as the History of Europe offers plenty of options to focus on all those colours and traditions and to discuss the cultural, humanistic and religious traditions of Europe, including its Jewish and Christian roots. The secular state and liberal order heavily depend on the values arising from the faiths of its citizens.
Will thin morals, focusing mainly on the interests of the European Union, without a supporting state religion, be able to truly motivate students? Aren’t such morals much too thin? A teacher who keeps defending the interests of the Union will be regarded as some kind of robot by his students. That pin on the teacher’s jacket, with the well-known symbol of the Union’s blue flag with twelve golden stars, will become irritating. There will be resistance. When Union education prompts a student to identify with the interests of the Union through indoctrination, it may result in people alienating themselves. For example, someone from Brittany in northern France migh not felt comfortable in the centralistically organised French education system because of the lack of room for something such as an individual’s personal cultural identity. Based on his own conscience, a voice from heaven, that wagging finger in your head, a student might rebel against the indoctrination of a Union education regarding the general interest of the Union.
Is the internal market always sacred and just? No, something at work might be higher than the general interest of the Union. It may be a personal interest (e.g. awareness of a disadvantage of the internal market or free movement of people) or a universal interest (not agreeing with solutions offered by the Union for the refugee crisis). Educating people into perfect Union citizens in such a way that students have to identify with the interests of the Union will be at their own expense. That’s why it is not a true education because people and students are subordinated to a restricted Union interest, the interest of an international organisation. Students will be used.
So true civic education has to be something entirely different. It should be aimed at developing people and civilising the world. An education to nothing more than a citizen in respect of the sovereignty of a nation state, or an education to nothing more than a Union citizen in respect of the supranational order of the Union cannot be regarded as proper civic education. Even if one agrees that the future of the European Union’s constitutionalism will be (re)constructed in federal terms.R. Schütze, European Union Law, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2018 (2), p. 70. For the sake of the higher goal of an education that people can develop in ways that enable them to improve and humanise the world, it would be more appropriate to focus on the ideal of the ‘global citizen’.
An example of this motivation for the education of the citizen of the world was the Czech pedagogue and theologian Jan Amos Comenius (1592-1670), one of the major philosophers of the 17th century who found a safe haven in Amsterdam. His aim was to educate people to fully develop their abilities and humanity.H.E.S. Woldring, Jan Amos Comenius. Zijn leven, missie en erfenis, Budel: Damon 2014, p. 181-192. Comenius was convinced that an educated and harmonically formed person would not use violence to solve their problems at the expense of society. He believed in the immanent dimension of paradise, he dreamt of a humane society where each person would be in the image of God. And because God is love, his children must also live in love together.Igor Kišš, ‘The Concept of Paradise as the Theological Starting Point for Comenius’ Pedagogy’, Uspořádali: Svatava Chocholová, Markéta Páanková, Martin Steiner. Redaktoři: Petra Holovková, Marie Chrobáková & Magdaléna Faltusová, Johannes Amos Comenius. The Legacy to the Culture of Education, Prague: Academia 2009, p. 104-111. Comenius wrote: ‘We are all citizens of one world, we are all of one blood. To hate people because they were born in another country, because they speak a different language, or because they take a different view on this subject or that, is a great folly!’V.-J. Dieterich, Johann Amos Comenius, Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt 1991, p. 129-130. In his Opera didactica omnia (1657-58), Comenius was always emphasizing the methodological conception of the whole: the relation to the whole world, the whole language, the cultivation of the whole man during the whole life. Initiating the concept of lifelong learning Comenius was far ahead of his time.D. Čapková, ‘Opera didactica omnia’, in: Uspořádali: Svatava Chocholová, Markéta Páanková & Martin Steiner. Redaktoři: Petra Holovková, Marie Chrobáková & Magdaléna Faltusová, Johannes Amos Comenius. The Legacy to the Culture of Education, Prague: Academia 2009, p. 52-54. As such, civic education should be more individual and more universal than an education to become a citizen of a state or the Union alone.
An alternative to an education to become a citizen or Union citizen could be the education to become an active citizen. This education focuses on Intellect, critical intelligence, the ability to think and judge critically. It enables people to decide for themselves what is true, good and meaningful, in terms of ideological beliefs, faith and ethics. What is reasonably acceptable? Someone who learned to use their powers of reason is unlikely ‘to become a plaything of a sect’, they will not be snowed under by the system of the established church and he will be more difficult to instrumentalise. A reasoning individual will think for himself or herself instead of being led by irrational loyalties and traditions. An emphasis on the active citizen will teach different people to live together by means of something neutral, the light of the Intellect, which in that case is assumed to be universal and neutral.H. Van Combrugge, N. Lafrarchi & K. Ponnet, ‘Onderwijs en de preventie van radicalisering. Conceptuele voorstellen’, Tijdschrift voor onderwijsrecht en onderwijsbeleid, vol. 5, 2015, p. 25-35. In liberal education, one is expected to behave as a reasonable and neutral creature, i.e. leaving his deep-rooted securities, loyalties and traditions behind.J.W. Sap, C.M. Zoethout & G. van der Schyff, Ritual Slaughter, Animal Welfare and the Freedom of Religion, Amsterdam: VU University Press 2017, p. 14. An example of the neutrality requirement is that some schools replace a term as ‘Christmas holiday’ with ‘winter holiday’.
This secular concept of active civic education that focuses on rationale has led to criticism from those with an active pluralist vision on civic education. Those advocating this pluralist vision have rightfully asked a number of questions. Is this belief in this so-called universal Intellect really fully neutral? Isn’t it another type of ideological beliefs that need to be accounted for? And how reasonable and universal are they? A lot of universal values are abstractions that can, in fact, be traced back to practices which were developed by certain people, in larger communities, states, supranational and international organisations. After all, we can have completely different outlooks on life. Those so-called universal values may well not be neutral at all and be based on very private and diverse ideas. In practice, this universal intellect is much more than just a neutral assessor of different opinions; it forms part of diversity. Also, those so-called universal values may at some point also be the convictions of the dominant powerful group in society, of prosperous conservative liberals, for instance, who were sitting on velvet in the middle of the 19th century. In the 19th century civil society struggled for equal treatment. In 1917, the Dutch Constitution was changed and implemented universal suffrage, proportional representation and equal funding for all schools both public (secular) and private (religious). This was the famous Pacification of 1917, ending the battle between religious and secular parties, the centenary of which we celebrated in 2017.J.W. Sap, The Netherlands Constitution 1848-1998. Historical Reflections, Utrecht: Lemma 2000, p. 120.
Those advocating a more pluralist vision on civic education, criticising the so-called neutrality of universal intellect, do attach importance to critical reasoning but have supplemented this with an education that tends to encourage people to respect differences, to be tolerant about deviating opinions, interculturality. In that case, the discussion about which ethics people contribute on the basis of their traditions and what they can learn from each other, openness and dialogue is important rather than the judgment of the ‘neutral’ intellect. What can you learn from each other’s differences? What are the roots? What matters is that under this citizenship vision, no one can appropriate the universal neutral position, because people are each other's equals. In this pluralist vision on civic education, according to Van Combrugge, Lafrarchi and Ponnet, we have to look for a modus vivendi, where everyone can be themselves to a maximum extent.
So active civic education facilitates a two-track policy: a) the universality of intellect, critical thinking and reasoning and accessible sources matter, and b) the recognition of the diversity of traditional beliefs, a diversity that does not pose a threat to intellect and does not pose a threat to an individual’s personal beliefs. Walzer argues: ‘… I want to endorse the politics of difference and, at the same time, to describe and defend a certain sort of universalism.’M. Walzer, op. cit., p. x. In the case of a critical pluralist civic education, it concerns both the education to learn to think critically and the education to learn how to be able to hold a decent conversation, to be able to deal with differences and to be able to regard those differences as an enrichment. Philosophical, religious education and religious communities can play a very important role in this.
In religious education it is possible to distinguish three key points: ‘learning religion’, ‘learning about religion’ and ‘learning from religion’. Although aspects of the three emphases can overlap in classroom, ‘learning religion’ refers to a confessional approach to religion or an introduction to a specific faith tradition. ‘Learning about religion’ encompasses religious studies, knowledge about religion and its meaning for its adherents. ‘Learning from religion’ explores religious experience and religious life as well as the meaning of religion for identity formation, orientation and dialogue.P. Schreiner, op. cit., p. 3. Philosophical and religious education can contribute to the critical pluralist education and that can make a positive contribution to active civic education. Examples include the cultivation of democratic values and practices, the development of critical thinking skills and picking up competencies for intercultural coexistence and dialogue.
Imagine the case of John who wants to attend an city grammar school where there are only white students. There is no attention for philosophical and religious education. Regarding history they take the rational approach and religious movements are interpreted as something created to control our fears. At John’s school, everyone looks the same, everyone plays hockey and all the parents drive a Volvo. Government is seen as just an ordinary corporation with clients instead of citizens. John is not taught to deal with differences and traditional beliefs. There is no knowledge about the task to build an ark that protects people and animals from the flood, about the identification of Christ and the Word of God, the fact that human beings are good and evil, the former compartmentalisation of society, and the connections. There is no knowledge about the need to speak the prophetic word, the importance of anchors in the state and the civil society. Philosophical and religious education would have been an excellent supplement for John. Religious communities and their predecessors have a vital role to play towards youngsters. We cannot deny that dogmas have been helpful to develop the free Western mind. Do we really know who we are? After declaring the death of God, Friedrich Nietzsche said that we have killed him.F. Nietzsche, The gay science (vertaling van Die fröhliche Wissenschaft (1882)), New York: Vintage 1974, p. 181-182. In a way Nietzsche even predicted the evil consequences of Communism and Fascism in the twentieth century. Will we know where our values come after we have declared God dead?
Universality of intellect and traditional beliefs should therefore be taught. Everyone should take part in debates and seek the truth. Diversity is not a threat to universal intellect or traditional beliefs, it is an enrichment. We, therefore, have to learn how to think critically and deal with differences, which requires both knowledge and skills. Philosophical and religious education offers just that and, combined with critical thinking, it can contribute to preventing radicalisation, whereas the choice for only universally neutral (atheist) or only indoctrinating religious education carries the risk of promoting radicalisation: secularism and fundamentalism. Early Christian (revolutionary) doctrine lies at the basis of Western civilisation, law and society: equality of slaves and noblemen before God, rights for the lowliest person, room for the individual, freedom of speech, separation of church and state. This is now all part of the European spirit. Today there is certainly room for Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the European Union, as long as the religions are combined with critical thinking and respect the rules of the democratic constitutions and the rule of law.T. van Dongen, Radicalisering ontrafeld. Tien redenen om een terroristische aanslag te plegen, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press 2017, p. 10.
Given the distinction between thick and thin morals, the vulnerable thin morals perform best when they are supported by the thick philosophical beliefs as they are digested by private communities. The first advantage of an intentional introduction to thick morals is that thin public morals will enjoy stronger support and the second advantage is that someone who is raised under thick morals will have a better understanding of someone raised under different thick morals. Thick morals also serve to keep vigilance over the rule of law, for instance some of the resistance groups during the Nazis’ occupation of the Netherlands that did not acknowledge the Nazis as a legitimate authority.
Things go wrong when one group of thick morals talks about another group of thick morals as if they are inferior, heretics, unbelievers, or stupid. That also means there are limits for an intolerant religion. To prevent radicalisation fundamentalist Muslims should be told there is no reward in the thereafter for the suicide terrorists who committed the attacks in New York on 11 September 2001. No room for hate. A religious person should only be radical in the commandment to love the Lord and love thy neighbour as thyself. When mosques in Amsterdam are being influenced by aggressive and rigid Salafists who regard dissidents as heretics and who entice hatred, the Dutch democratic rules may require a restriction of the freedom of religion. Rules of the European Parliament and national parliaments in Europe take precedence over Sharia law.
In the struggle for high quality religious education in Europe, international comparative research has led to the formulation of professional criteria for common standards. These criteria focus on the educational quality of religious education, its contribution to general education, its dialogue-oriented, child-centred nature and its delivery by professional teachers.F. Schweitzer, ‘Comparative Research in Religious Education: International-Interdenominational-Interreligious’, in: R. Larsson & C. Gustavsson, Towards a European Perspective on Religious Education, Skellefteå: Författarna 2004, p. 191-200. In Europe, religion in education should be seen as an important value. Especially since the terrorist attacks after 9/11 more attention is needed for religious diversity and intercultural education. The close relationship between education and religious and moral values is decisive for the future of Europe.P. Schreiner, op. cit., p. 12.
Religion is an important issue in the cultural life of Europe. Especially since the terrorist attacks religion has become central to public debate. Religious education can be seen as a contributor to civic education, identity formation, orientation and dialogue. A close relationship between education and religious and moral values can help to raise mutual respect for the principles of spiritual diversity in Europe. Children have the right to understand their own and other religious traditions. In principle, the other should be accepted as someone who can make a valuable contribution, as a source. A democratic and social legal order is meant to include people. In short, one should treat dissidents openly, positively and respectfully. If that is not the case, such beliefs or religions will encounter problems when it comes to social recognition and room to set up institutes and schools. This means people always need to be willing and able to hold a dialogue. This calls for regular contacts between religious groups, with groups having equal status, with room for personal interaction and for collaboration in social projects, leading to confidence to start new projects. A democratic legal order in crisis will need a strong civil society to survive. Critical pluralist civic education, including religious education, will contribute to better citizens and stronger and safer communities, inside the European Union and beyond.