December 2013 Church & State | AU Bulletin

People in Italy are debating whether to keep an elective course on Roman Catholicism in the public school system.

The issue came to public attention recently after an entire class of students at a high school in Genoa declined to take the course.

The class, called the “religion hour,” had been mandatory for all students until 1968, when a court ruled that pupils could opt out. Until recently, few chose to do so, and about 91 percent of Italian students were taking the course.

The course focuses exclusively on Catholic history and traditions. Italy has a strong Catholic tradition, with almost 90 percent of the population professing that faith, although not dogmatically so for many.

Critics call the class unnecessary and question the state’s role in funding such sectarian curriculum, reported Religion News Service.

“It would be easier for me to understand this course if it was a survey of world religions, or a course on spirituality or ethics,” Fabio Milito Pagliara said. Pagliara is a teacher and an official with Italy’s Union of Atheists and Agnostics.