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Willi, Anna and David Dojan v. Germany and 4 other applications

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Court/Judicial body: European Court of Human Rights

Citation: Fifth Section Decision as to the Admissibility of Application no. 319/08
Date: 13 September 2011
Instrument(s) cited: Articles 4, 6(2) and 7 of the German Basic Law (Grundgesetz) Schools Act of the Federal Land of North Rhine-Westphalia (Schulgesetz NRW) Compulsory Schooling Act of the Federal Land of North Rhine-Westphalia (Schulpflichtgesetz NRW) Sections 17, 20 and 96 of the Administrative Offences Act Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (the “Convention”), Articles 8, 9 and 14 Article 2 of Protocol 1 to the Convention Rules 42§1 of the Rules of Court

Case summary

Background: Between 2005 and 2007, several members of the Christian Evangelical Baptist Church with children in school in Salzkotten, North Rhine-Westphalia objected to mandatory sex education classes, a school theatre workshop aimed at preventing sexual abuse, and a carnival celebration, on the basis that these activities conflicted with their religious and moral beliefs.  The school did not grant these parents’ permission to exempt their children from the relevant lessons and workshop.  Various of the parents then took action to prevent the lessons from being held at the school physically or by preventing their children from attending school during the relevant time periods.  These parents were then fined.  Many of these parents then refused to pay the fine and contested the fines legally.  Although the fines were upheld, many of these parents nevertheless refused to pay.  These parents were then imprisoned for a number of weeks or months.

Issue and resolution: Sexual education. The Court determined that children’s rights to an education were not violated by the sex education and festival activities at issue, and further, that Germany could require children to attend such classes with a goal to integrate minorities and avoid the formation of religiously or ideologically motivated “parallel societies.”

Court reasoning: The sex education at issue was intended as neutral transmission of knowledge with a view toward promoting participation in a pluralistic society. Therefore, the Court found these objectives consonant with the principles of pluralism and objectivity embodied in Article 2 of Protocol No. 1.  As for the carnival, the activities were not religious and children could attend alternative events.  In addition, there was no evidence presented to establish that the curriculum and events were not conveyed in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner.  Further, the parents remained free to educate their children at home as they wished.  Accordingly, the Court found that the domestic authorities’ and courts’ decisions were not erroneous and fall within the Contracting States’ margin of appreciation in setting up and interpreting rules for their educational systems.

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