Debate Over Education Reform Bill Highlights Role of Religion in Public Square

May 17, 2004

Source: The Christian Science Monitor

On May 17, 2004 The Christian Science Monitor reported, "A recently passed higher education reform bill has thrust Turkey into a raging political debate, once again highlighting the secular country's continuing struggle with defining the role of religion in the public sphere. The bill deals in large part with reorganizing the board that oversees Turkey's public universities. But its critics say they are alarmed by a piece of the legislation: a new law that opens up the public system to graduates of state-run religious high schools that train imams and preachers. A previous law, passed in the wake of the 1997 'postmodern' coup - a bloodless military intervention that ended the rule of Turkey's first Islamist government - effectively shut out these students from higher education, directing them only to theology faculties. The bill has drawn criticism from Turkey's secular establishment, which sees it as clearing the way for religious school students to pursue careers in government or the judiciary. Supporters, however, say the debate has been exaggerated - that students of religious studies simply want the option to pursue professional careers in a modern Turkey."