School and religions
In Portugal, as in other countries, families can choose between public (essentially free), private (secular or not) and international schools. The school curriculum is structured into five levels, some compulsory others optional: jardins de infancia (kindergarten), ensino básico (basic education), ensino secundário (secondary education), cursos de especialização tecnológica (post-secondary education for those who have obtained a technical degree), ensino superior universitário or politécnico (academic training or polytechnic). As in Italy, in Portugal the teaching of religion is partly curricular, this means that it is offered compulsorily by the State but can be chosen optionally by the parents or the pupil. The guidelines for religious teaching, whose correct name is “Religious and Moral Education” (Educação Moral e Religiosa), are dictated by the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference and integrated into national school legislation. Moreover, the contents of the lectures and the professors in charge are trained and hired by the diocese but, if they work for a public school, they remain salaried by the State.
Evolution of religious teaching and new proposals
The legislation of 1971 defined Roman Catholicism as the official religion of the Portuguese Nation with all that ensued for teaching in schools. Today, however, the status of religious education in Portugal has profoundly changed, but to understand the current situation we must proceed step by step. The first changes concerning the religious question occurred with the Constitution of 1976, in which no reference was made to any particular religion (as had happened previously granting Christianity a privileged position) and guaranteed freedom of worship by prohibiting any kind of
persecution. As regards religious instruction in schools, Article 43 excluded from public education any religious orientation and prohibited public school from being confessional.
Thus, with the Constitution of 1976, the relations between the State and the Church were clearly delimited, forbidding the former any religious positioning and excluding from scholastic teaching any reference to Catholic doctrine: religion, considered a private matter, could be freely taught and spread, but not included in the state educational system.
Things changed again with Decree Law No. 323/83, by which the teaching of Catholic religion and morals had been reintroduced into public institutions. However, following some protests about the document’s unconstitutionality, in 1987 Portugal has finally reached the current situation: the government is responsible for offering the student religious instruction at school with non-compulsory attendance, based on the religious orientation declared by his or her guardians. In other words, religion remains a private matter, but the State provides its teaching according to the guiding norms dictated by religious institutions.
Today, the arrival of immigrants from different regions of the world makes the Portuguese society increasingly diverse but the Portuguese school organization still does not follow this new socio-cultural dynamic, however, there are several proposals for the renewal of religious teaching. Among the most interesting, there is certainly the hypothesis of a new teaching formulated by the author and professor of Religious Studies Paulo Mendes Pinto. He proposes to replace the existing religious teaching with a “teaching of religions” fully integrated into the school curriculum and based on the assumption of the cultural and religious diversity that characterizes Portugal and Europe, having regard to the knowledge of religions which is a prerequisite for the intellectual and civic formation of Portuguese students. What is fundamental for Pinto in this new conception is to offer to all, believers and non-believers, the knowledge of the role of religions in society and the dynamics that their presence and interaction entails in it1.
Website of the Ministry of National Education:
Regulations on religious instruction of the Directorate General for Education:
http://www.dge.mec.pt/educacao-moral-e-religiosa 1 P. M. Pinto, Para uma Ciência das Religiões em Portugal: cidadania & cultura, Lisboa 2005.
Program of religious teaching in schools proposed by the Episcopal Conference: