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Turkish man officially changes religion to exempt child from mandatory Islamic lessons

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A man in Turkey has officially converted to Christianity from Islam with the aim of making his child exempt from religion classes, which are required in Turkey’s primary, middle and secondary schools despite the fact that the country is officially a secular republic, the Sözcü daily reported on Tuesday.

Bülent Sağış, who lives in the western province of Aydın, requested that the Didim Civil Registry Office change the religious information in his record, which currently says he is Muslim, to Christian in accordance with his rights under the law, Sözcü said.

Sağış explained on X on Monday that only Christian and Jewish children in Turkey are exempt from religion classes, adding that he officially changed his religion in order to protest the mandatory nature of the classes.

He also criticized the Education Ministry’s new education curriculum for “disregarding” secularism, democracy, science and the principles of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey.

Barbaros Şansal, one of Turkey’s most famous fashion designers and an outspoken critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, slammed the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) for the development.

“Everyone can be Christian or non-Muslim now by simply filling out a form at the civil registry. Long live the AKP,” Şansal said in a tweet.

Many have argued that the AKP government aims to separate education in Turkey from its secular foundations and align it with the party’s own ideology. Education ministers during AKP rule have been criticized for their efforts to distance education from its national character and tie it to religious and reactionary ideologies.

In 2022 Turkey’s top court ruled that compulsory religion classes violate freedom of religion, upholding two past decisions of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) that criticized Ankara on the principle and content of compulsory religious education.

Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers from Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Alevi associations last month protested the “Century of Turkey Education Model” for primary and secondary education announced by the ministry a week earlier.

The new curriculum underwent a reduction of about 35 percent in content, with the limitation of the evolution theory to secondary biology and the complete removal of integrals from mathematics, as a result of its fourth overhaul in the last 22 years under the rule of the AKP government.

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