An NGO’s attack against freedom of expression and presence of Orthodox Christianity in public sphere of Serbia

January 26, 2015. The Movement for Enlightened Society NGO has declared that the marking of St.Sava’s Day as the patron saint day of schools “violates the principle of secularity” in Serbia, reports news agency b92. St.Sava, who was born in 1175, is the patron saint of schools and students and his death on January 27 is officially marked as St. Sava’s Day in schools in Serbia.

The NGO also protested over Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) priests taking an active part in school celebrations, “with prayers and inappropriate sermons, and performance of religious rituals,” in this way “additionally stressing the religious importance of the holiday.” According to the NGO’ statement “by celebrating patron saint day of schools as a religious holiday, the Constitution of Serbia is being directly violated in Article 11 that mandates the separation of churches and religious communities and the state”.

As known, being the first head of the autocephalous Serbian Orthodox Church, and the author of Serbia’s first Constitution, as well as a diplomat and writer who had great influence on the medieval Serbian literature, Saint Savva played a great role in the history of Serbia. His religious identity cannot be separated from his personality and his activity.

The NGO reminded headmasters of state schools and “responsible persons in the government” that there are members of other religions, “as well as atheists,” among schoolchildren and their parents and teachers. According to the statement, they are denied the right to celebrate St. Sava’s Day as “a true school holiday open to everyone, regardless of their religious and ethnic orientation.”

Earlier this month the Movement for Enlightened Society criticized President Tomislav Nikolic for sending his Christmas message and taking part in Christmas rituals held at the presidency building as “impermissible abuse of the holiday and violation of the Constitution”.

In a multicultural society where citizens have a great appreciation of their religious identity the way to manifest respect to different religious or cultural communities for the state is a very important element of democratic governance. The ignorance of religious heritage of a country or artificial secularizing of religious feasts are regarded as unrespect and discrimination of religious communities. So the State authorities must make the respectful gestures for great feasts of different religions. The scale and their forms should be proportional to the presence and recognition in society of a community.