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Kjeldsen, Busk Madsen and Pedersen v. Denmark

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Court/Judicial body: European Court of Human Rights

Citation: Applications no. 5095/71; 5920/72; 5926/72
Date: 7 December 1976
Instrument(s) cited: Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms: Articles 8, 9, and 14Protocol of 20 March 1952 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“Protocol No. 1”): Article 2

Case summary

Background: Denmark enacted legislation to mandate that state schools integrate sex education into their curriculum at an early age, in response to an increased rate of unwanted pregnancy and abortion.  Parents who objected to their children’s receiving this education filed complaints with the European Commission of Human Rights (the “Commission”) to alleging that the new legislation impinged upon their rights as parents to have their children’s education be “in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions,” under Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to be free from religious discrimination under Article 14, the right to respect for their private and family life under Article 8 and their right to freedom of thought, conscience under 9 of the Convention.  The Commission consolidated the cases and referred them to this court.

Issue and resolution: Sexual education. The issue was whether the integration of sex education into the curriculum of state schools violated the rights of parents to have their religious and philosophical convictions respected in the state education of their children. The Court determined that the parents’ rights were not violated by the legislation.

Court reasoning: The Court reasoned that the purpose and nature of the education integrated was for legitimate state interest in reducing the rate of unwanted pregnancies rather than for  indoctrination, and that the information provided was objective fact and knowledge rather than tenets or beliefs.  Stated differently, the curriculum did not advocate a specific moral conclusion as to behaviour, and the education was provided in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner.  Accordingly, the additional curriculum, unlike religious education, was permitted to be made mandatory and held not to violate Article 2 of Protocol 1 to the Convention.
Dissenting opinion: One of the seven judges dissented from the conclusion on the ground that Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 did not permit distinctions to be made as to whether the purpose of the education was to indoctrinate or not; rather, that parents’ philosophical and religious convictions must be respected in providing the education, without exception. Further, the dissenting judge distinguished between factual information on human sexuality within the scope of natural sciences, and information concerning sexual practices, with the latter, he argues, always affecting the development of children’s consciences.

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