March 21, 2011

Education about religion in public schools can help students learn to respect others' beliefs, but government-run programs must exercise extreme caution not to promote or to criticize a particular religion, a Vatican official told the UN Human Rights Council.

"Education and freedom of religion can reinforce each other," said Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican's representative to UN agencies in Geneva.

Tomasi addressed the council March 10.

"A fair presentation of different beliefs can prevent the stereotyping of other people's convictions, can open (people) to dialogue and to respect of the inalienable dignity of every student, of every believer and of every person," he said.

The Catholic Church insists that parents have the right to determine what their children will learn about religion, he said, and it insists that the parents' desire takes precedence over any government plan.

"On the other hand, while people should have the right to profess their ideas freely, this should be done within the limits imposed by the common good and a just public order, and, in every case, in a manner characterized by responsibility," Tomasi said.