Public Defender of Georgia addresses Education Minister with general proposal
Based on an application by Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI), the Public Defender of Georgia addressed the Minister of Education with a general proposal to consider religious needs of university applicants when organizing unified national exams. The proposal was prompted by a case which concerned two university applicants who, because of their religious belief, appealed to the National Assessment and Examinations Center (NAEC) to reschedule their exam to any other day but Saturday. The NAEC denied the request.
According to the Public Defender, the act of university applicants (refusal to participate in secular events on Saturday) fits into the protected right of freedom of religion or belief. However, the NAEC disregarded the needs arising from their religious belief in scheduling the exam. Doing so put the applicants in an unequal situation as compared to those university applicants whose religious belief does not prohibit participation in secular events on certain days.
The Public Defender believes that such differential treatment lacks an objective and reasonable justification and apart from violating the freedom of religion and belief, constitutes an undue infringement of the right to equality.
The Public Defender also pointed at a shortcoming in the legislation. In particular, the normative act regulating unified national examinations does not provide a possibility for university applicants to state their religious needs as it lacks provisions that would require to accommodate religious needs. The absence of such provisions results in undue interference into the freedom of religion and belief.
In order to avoid unjustified breach of the right to freedom of religion and belief as well as the right to equality in future, the Public Defender has proposed the Education Minister to ensure that normative acts regulating unified national exams are amended so that religious needs of university applicants are taken into consideration when organizing exams.
Let us recall that on 30 June 2020, two university applicants, members of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, appealed to the NAEC to reschedule their exam on 18 June as they could not sit it on Saturday because of their religious belief. The NAEC unjustifiably denied the request of the applicants, thereby violating the rights of the applicants to freedom of religion and belief, education, and equality.
Consequently, the TDI, which defends the interests of these two university applicants, submitted an injunction application to the Tbilisi City Court on 15 July 2020. The application requested the Court to instruct the NAEC to reschedule the unified national exam to 17 or 19 July or any other day save Saturday. It is worth to note that the schedule of exams, approved under the decree of the Minister of Education, Science, Culture and Sport, set three different dates for the English language exam, namely 17, 18 and 19 July.
Based on the Court's decision, the NAEC rescheduled the English language exam for both applicants to 19 July.
TDI provides legal aid and strategic litigation in the frame of the project “combating discrimination on religious, ethnic and racial grounds through strategic litigation” with the support of East-West Management Institute’s (EWMI) project Promoting Rule of Law in Georgia (PROLoG) funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)