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HUMAN RIGHTS EDUCATION & FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF

The United Nations Human Rights Council held a high level discussion on a draft Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training at the 13th session, Tuesday 2 March 2010. This is a continuation of work for human rights education which began with the UN Decade for Human Rights Education 1995-2004. The history and current programs and news on Human Rights Education and Training, and a Database on Human Rights Education and Training by the United Nations Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is linked followed by a review of an article in the New York Times on K-12 public school education in the United States as preparation for the USA Universal Periodic Review and a Tandem Project recommendation. 


THE TANDEM PROJECT
http://www.tandemproject.com.

UNITED NATIONS, HUMAN RIGHTS,
FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF

The Tandem Project is a UN NGO in Special Consultative Status with the
Economic and Social Council of the United Nations

HRC High Level Discussion: Draft Declaration Human Rights Education & Training
http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/archive.asp?go=100302

This is a link to High Level discussion on the draft declaration on human rights education and training from 10:00-13:00 on Tuesday 2 March 2010. There were opening remarks by; UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and high level dignitaries from Switzerland, Morocco, Senegal, Philippines and Slovenia. Remarks were made by 15 UN Member States and closing comments on behalf of the panel by Morocco.

United States of America: Remarks by the United States during the high level discussion on the draft declaration on human rights education and training.

[English]

Human Rights Education and Training
http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/education/training/index.htm

This is a link to the history of human rights education beginning with the UN Decade for Human Rights Education 1995-2004, the World Program on Human Rights Education 2005-2009, leading up to the Draft Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training in 2010. It includes a menu with two compendiums of best practices; Human Rights Education in the School Systems of Europe, Central Asia and North America in partnership with OSCE, CoE, OHCHR and UNESCO; and the Act Project in the UN Cyber School Bus, UNICEF Voices of Youth and UNESCO. The ABC – Teaching Human Rights: Practical Activities for Primary and Secondary Schools published in 2003 includes in Chapter two: Human Rights Topics for Pre-School and Lower Primary School.

Database on Human Rights Education and Training
http://hre.ohchr.org/hret/intro.aspx

This is the link to the OHCHR database on Human Rights Education and Training. A key word search under “Religion” lists 36 entries and “Belief” lists eight entries. There are 726 entries relating to all human rights subjects. 

The Tandem Project recommendation after the review is based on (1) an address made by the Netherlands Ambassador-at-Large for Human Rights made in 2006 and (2) the need to publish textbooks with a wide distribution on tolerance for diversity of religion or belief in social studies curricula K-12 in the United States of America as an alternative to the Texas Board of Education financial domination of published textbooks in the United States for public school curricula reflected in this article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. 

Review: How Christian Were the Founders? History Wars: Inside America’s Textbook Battles, by Russell Shorto, New York Times Sunday Magazine, 14 February 2010.

Excerpt: “Conservative activists on the Texas Board of Education say that the authors of the Constitution intended the United States to be a Christian Nation. And they want America’s history textbooks to say so too. Last month, a week before the Senate seat of the liberal icon Edward M. Kennedy fell into Republican hands, his legacy suffered another blow that was perhaps just as damaging, if less noticed. It happened during what has become an annual spectacle in the culture wars.

Over two days, more than a hundred people-Christians, Jews, housewives, naval officers, professors; people outfitted in everything from business suits to military fatigues to turbans to baseball caps-streamed through the halls of the William B. Travis Building in Austin, Tex., waiting for a chance to stand before the semicircle of 15 high-backed chairs whose occupants made up the Texas State Board of Education. Each petitioner had three minutes to say his or her piece.

Following the appeals from the public, the members of what is the most influential state board of education in the country, and one of the most politically conservative, submitted their own proposed changes to the new social studies curriculum guidelines, whose adoption was the subject of all the attention guidelines, whose adoption was the subject of all the was the subject of all the attention-guidelines that will affect students around the country, from kindergarten to 12th grade, for the next ten years.

Public education has always been a battleground between cultural forces; one reason that Texas’ school-board members find themselves at the very center of the battlefield is, not surprisingly, money. Texas uses some of that money to buy or distribute a staggering 48 million textbooks annually-which rather strongly inclines educational publishers to tailor their products to fit the standards directed by the Lone Star State.

Texas was one of the first states to adopt statewide curriculum guidelines, back in 1998, and the guidelines it came up with (which are referred to as TEKS-pronounced “teaks” –for Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) were clear, broad and inclusive enough that many other states used them as a model in devising their own. And while technology is changing things, textbooks-printed or online-are still the backbone of education.

The one thing that underlies the entire program of the nation’s Christian conservative activists is, naturally, religion. But it isn’t merely the case that their Christian orientation shapes their opinions on gay marriage, abortion and government spending. More elementally they hold that the United States was founded by devout Christians and according to biblical precepts. This belief provides what they consider not only a theological but also, ultimately, a judicial grounding to their positions on social questions. When they proclaim that the United States is a “Christian nation,” they are not referring to the percentage of the population that ticks a certain box in a survey or census but to the country’s roots and the intent of its founders.

The Christian “truth” about America’s founding has long been taught in Christian schools, but not beyond. Recently, however-perhaps out of ire at what they see as an aggressive, secular, liberal agenda in Washington and perhaps also because they sense an opening in the battle, a sudden weakness in the lines of the secularists-some activists decided that the time was right to try to reshape the history that children in public schools study. Succeeding at this would help them toward their ultimate goal of reshaping American society. As Cynthia Dunbar, another Christian activist on the Texas board put it, “The philosophy of the classroom in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next.”

Universal Periodic Review: The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique process launched by the UN Human Rights Council in 2008 to review the human rights obligations and responsibilities of all UN Member States by 2011.
http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/BasicFacts.aspx

The United States of America Universal Periodic Review (UPR) will be held before the United Nations Human Rights Council in November 2010. The government is calling for input into the National Report from all segments of civil society. This Tandem Project recommendation is for human rights education on freedom of religion or belief beginning with early childhood curricula.

THE TANDEM PROJECT RECOMMENDATION

This recommendation is for all public, private and religious schools and religious schools in places of worship as a follow-up to all UN Member State Universal Periodic Reviews.

3. Apply International Human Rights Standards on Freedom of Religion or Belief in education curricula as appropriate in all grade levels, teaching children, from the very beginning, that their own religion is one out of many and it is a personal choice for everyone to adhere to the religion or belief by which he or she feels most inspired, or to adhere to no religion or belief at all.

Based on an address by:

Mr. Piet de Klerk: Commemoration of the 25 Year History of 1981 UN Declaration on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

“Our educational systems need to provide children with a broad orientation: from the very beginning, children should be taught that their own religion is one out of many and that it is a personal choice for everyone to adhere to the religion or belief by which he or she feels most inspired, or to adhere to no religion or belief at all.” - Mr. Piet de Klerk:  Ambassador-at-Large of the Netherlands on Human Rights.

Attachment: One Classroom, From Sea to Shining Sea with excerpt from: In Texas Curriculum Fight, Identity Politics Leans Right; 25 Year Anniversary of 1981 UN Declaration on Freedom of Religion or Belief.