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Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe/ODIHR


The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is the largest regional security organization in Europe. Its participant states include most European states plus the United States and Canada. It was set up in the 1970s to create a forum of dialogue during the Cold War. The OSCE is a security organization extending in its coverage from Vancouver to Vladivostock. It is based on the concept of ‘three dimensional security’. Security is not only considered in politico-military terms but also through its human dimension and an environmental and economic dimension.

The OSCE, which is based in Vienna, has played an important role in Europe’s security infrastructure over the past decades, including in the context of the conflicts that have arisen since the beginning of the 1990s. The innovative concept of three-dimensional security has shaped the policy and programmes of the OSCE in Europe and other parts of the OSCE area over the last three decades.

The OSCE has an Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) based in Warsaw, Poland.

The Toledo Guiding Principles on Teaching about Religions and Beliefs

The main contribution of the OSCE/ODIHR to education about religions and beliefs has been the development of a standard setting document, The Toledo Guiding Principles on Teaching about Religions and Beliefs in Public Schools (the ‘TGPs’), launched in Madrid in 2007 (OSCE 2007). They offer guidance on preparing curricula for teaching about religions and beliefs, preferred procedures for assuring fairness in the development of curricula, and standards for how they could be implemented. The ‘TGPs’ are available free of charge from the web and are available in hard copy in English and in Spanish translation.


(Professor Robert Jackson speaking at the launch of the Toledo Guiding Principles at the 15th OSCE Ministerial Council held in Madrid in November 2007)

The Toledo Guiding Principles were developed by an inter-disciplinary team including members of the ODIHR Advisory Council of Experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief. The team comprised international human rights lawyers (including Professors Silvio Ferrari, Cole Durham and Malcolm Evans) educators (including Barry van Driel and Dr. Ulrike Wolff-Jontofsohn) and academics (including Professor Jolanta Ambrosewicz-Jacobs, Professor Robert Jackson and Dr Jeremy Gunn) from a cross section of religious and philosophical backgrounds, and gives close attention to legal issues in relation to freedom of religion or belief and education. Professor Robert Jackson, Director of WRERU, was a member of the drafting team of The Toledo Guiding Principles, working on the document in Toledo and Vienna in 2007. He spoke at the launch of The Toledo Guiding Principles at the 15th OSCE Ministerial Council held in Madrid in November 2007, and has since taken part in dissemination conferences in Athens, Berlin and Perugia.


(The initial drafting team for the Toledo Guiding Principles, Toledo, Spain, March 2007)

The argument for the inclusion of the study of religions and beliefs in public education has a human rights emphasis which is different from the Council of Europe’s ‘cultural’ argument (although all of the Council of Europe’s work is grounded ultimately on human rights principles). The first premise is that freedom of religion or belief predicates plurality: if freedom of religion or belief is a given for society, then society inevitably will be plural. The next premise is that, if society is to be cohesive, plurality requires tolerance of difference. The conclusion is that tolerance of difference requires at least knowledge and understanding of the beliefs and values of others. This would be so whatever the approach specifically taken to religious education or intercultural education in particular countries. In other words, the document supports the inclusion of a just and fair approach to religious difference, whatever the system of religious education or education about religion in particular states.

The TGPs include a substantial chapter on the human rights framework – including legal issues in relation to the state and the rights of parents, children, teachers and minorities, as well as chapters on preparing curricula and teacher education, plus conclusions and recommendations.

The TGPs, together with outputs from the Council of Europe, provide a very useful tool for discussion on teaching about religions and beliefs in individual states within and beyond Europe.