Canadian Religious Authority To Force Parents Into State Religion

From a Socon or Bust reader…

Supreme Court  hears Catholic parents’ case

May 18, 2011

Parents in Quebec will soon find out whether their government is allowed to force their children to take courses which go against their values.

The controversial ECR (Ethique et Culture Religieuse) course which is mandatory in all schools throughout Quebec from Grade 1 part way through high school, has so far generated 1700 (0.2% of students) requests for exemption on the part of parents, all of which were refused by the school boards at the instigation of the Education Minister.  Previous to this course, requests for exemption from religion or sexuality courses were routinely  accepted.

The case in front of the 4 women and 5 men of the Supreme Course hinged on several points of the law and the charter of rights. 

$             Are parents allowed to claim a religious exemption from a course that is “morally neutral” and how do you prove neutrality.  Is it the job of the courts to pronounce on religion or philosophy

$             On whom is the burden of proof that the course harms or doesn’t harm the child.  Who is the best judge regarding a particular child.

$             What constitutes “serious harm” in the context of freedom of conscience and religion

$             The parents’ rights and responsibilities regarding the education of their child

$             The manner in which this particular course infringes freedom of conscience and religion

$             The State’s legitimate interest in furthering through the schools attitudes of tolerance for diversity

 Several groups were granted intervener status in support of the parents:

Ÿ       Le Regroupement Chrétien pour le droit parental en Education       (Christians for parental rights in education)

$   The Coalition pout la liberté en education (Coalition for Freedom in Education)

$   The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada

$   The Canadian Civil Liberties Association

Ÿ       The Canadian Council of Christian Charities

Ÿ       The Trustees Coalition

The lawyers for the Drummondville parents and for the interveners brought out the following points:

Traditionally children have been taught right from wrong within a religious framework.  The State now wishes to do so through the means of  “ethics” based on reason alone.  The ECR course presents its basic philosophy as Kantian or Nietzschian, presenting numerous systems in a fragmented manner and training the child to critique and select.

The expressed aims of the course are NOT to present information or knowledge about different religions of the world but rather to develop in the children behaviours and attitudes of tolerance for diversity of cultures and religions.

For this reason, all of the content, whether firmly held religious beliefs in revealed truths or mythical heroes or fairy tales are presented side-by-side as equally worthy of respect.

The Course specifically forbids teachers to present world religions in a linear or sequential manner such as: Paganism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam.  Rather the course requires a specific symbol, rite or celebration to be described and set alongside several similar beliefs in various cultures.  The word  “divine”  is always followed by “mythical or supernatural beings”.  A story which is clearly fictional to the children will be set alongside the Christmas story.  In the whole programme, the word God with a capital G is only used twice.

Unacknowledged by any of the participants is the elephant in the room.  The spectre of radical Islamists within our Canadian tapestry and their clearly stated unwillingness to adopt our values.  It is their children who are the targets of this sudden need to teach attitudes of tolerance.  It is their parents who are the basis of the unwillingness to grant exemptions on grounds of religious beliefs. 

Believing parents have as one of their duties the transmission of their faith to their children.  It is therefore up to them to decide when something is infringing their parental prerogatives by deliberately proposing something different. 

In regards to school curriculum, there is an important distinction between purely objective courses such as biology or social studies (where many things such as civic rights and responsibilities and equality of persons are taught), and values education like the ECR course.  The Drummondville parents have made it clear that they have no objection to their children learning about other world religions, their symbols and celebrations.  Nor do they have issue with the state’s desire to teach tolerance for diversity.  Rather they object to this particular course, its manner and methods, and the State’s unwillingness to allow parents to exempt their children. 

As one lawyer said:  “It is our society itself which is pluralistic, not its individual members.  To try and force each individual person to become pluralistic is to dissolve all the individual differences that are precisely what make us a pluralistic society.” 

Marilyn  Morse

14 thoughts on “Canadian Religious Authority To Force Parents Into State Religion

  1. “The word “divine” is always followed by “mythical or supernatural beings”. ”

    How can one learn ethics from a group that knowing distorts the cirriculum guidelines? Here’s how the guidelines typically use those words:

    “Help students become aware that different cultures and religious traditions have numerous
    ways of representing the divine, as well as mythical and supernatural beings.”

    There is no implication that the divine is a myth. And perhaps the people who object if they took the course or even read the guidelines would appreciate that some religious traditions employ mythic stories such as our Native Peoples whose culture we historically attempted to wipe out.

    If you’re going to decry the government promoting an ethics course be ethical in your discussion.

  2. The State is taking the place of Religion in basically treating all religions as morally and practically equivalent. That is how the course in question is structured. And that’s fundamentally wrong.

    But besides that, we are left with the fundamental question of who is responsible for imparting religious values to the children: the State or the Parents?

    The State has no business intruding where parents object. And that brings us to another question: just what is the purpose of the State in religious instruction? We’ve been hearing for decades now how the State and religion should be separate. Now the State is seeking to over step its legitimate role and becoming essentially an arbitor of what is and what is not “acceptable religion”. By its ridiculous “neutrality”, it is making religious claims in and of itself by arrogating its own religious humanist position over the claims of other religions.

  3. It’s telling that you didn’t address my assertion that you distorted the cirriculum to bolter your own argument. You implied that the state was treating the divine as a mythical creature when in fact they were attempting to be inclusive for all religious traditions, those that have diving beings (such as Christianity) and those that do not (such as many of our Native traditions).

    I would suggest you do not distort the facts and people may start taking you seriously. Or not, as it only causes people to ignore any valid points you may have.

  4. “Help students become aware that different cultures and religious traditions have numerous
    ways of representing the divine, as well as mythical and supernatural beings.”

    Michael, that wording does indeed imply a relativistic interchangeability of divine, mythical and supernatural.

  5. Yes, it does. It presents various forms of religious worship as being as interchangeable as the color of the students shirt or pants.

    Why are you just quoting snippets of the document instead of considering the context of the whole thing? It’s really easy to pick a sentence here or there, but much harder to analyze the whole thing and provide an integrated synthesis of the policy thrust being put forth.

  6. Why am I quoting “snippets” (actually an entire sentence) because the poster of the original article quoted less than a snippet to imply something that the curriculum clearly wasn’t doing. The curriculum does not say the divine is a mythical being, only that some religious traditions have a divine being (Christianity, Islam, Judaism) while others have mythical beings or stories (Native American religious traditions).

    Seeing something as erroneous as this in the way it was presented leads one to question the competency or disingenuousness of the original poster.

  7. Religious parents see the mandatory ERC course as infringing on their religious beliefs and their freedom of conscience and they don’t want their children exposed to it, especially in primary school.

    In Québec, the compulsory ERC course is a violation of parents’ rights to morally instruct their children. If the exemption right is not defended by the Supreme Court judgement it could affect freedom in all other provinces.

    We should all contact our Conservative MPs about this provincial issue with national impact on freedom.

  8. “In Quebec, the compulsory ERC course is a violation of parents’ rights to morally instruct their children”

    You don’t mean morally, you mean religiously. I assume you don’t object to schools teaching children that bullying is immoral, that fighting on the playground is immoral, that name calling is immoral, etc., it’s only when the school system seeks to educate children (in a neutral fashion) about the large range of religious traditions we have in this world that certain religious parents get agitated. Some go as far as to distort quotes from the curriculum as Ms Morse.

    Is it because children should be kept in ignorance of all religious traditions other than their own or that this education can only be given by their parents who will provide the needed bias against the other religions? Surely if your religion (whichever on of the thousands it is) is valid, then it will withstand a child’s exposure to the beliefs of other faiths.

    Or maybe not. Maybe the fact that there are thousands of incompatible religious beliefs on this planet cause some children to doubt the validity of the faith they were born into? Children will start to question the arbitrariness of the fact that they are Baptist and their best friend is Catholic, that the girl next door is Hindu, and that even some people have no faith and are happy and fulfilled.

    Maybe you do have grounds for concern so that distorting quotes to inflame passions is simply the end justifying the means. I don’t know in this program if they cover the problem with this ethical stance.

  9. That’s where you’re wrong. This course isn’t neutral. It isn’t about informing kids about the variety of religions that exist. If you read the depositions to the court submitted by some parents who object to the ECR course, you’d know that that’s not how this course operates.

    The course actively works to undo teaching that parents may give to their children at home. The course teaches kids that all religions are equal. Who gave the State the right to contradict the formation given by parents to their children?

    If the course were merely providing information about other faiths, it wouldn’t be as big a deal. But that’s not what’s happening. Ask the parents whose kids are enrolled in this course. They get to see the textbooks and teaching materials brought home by the kids every week. There’s much more info in their week-to-week experience than what can be gleaned from a quick examination of the course outline on a website.

  10. I’ve only read the cirriculum and it looks quite good. It appears from your last post that you agree with the guidelines but not the way some people are having them implemented. The solution would seem to be to work to have the cirriculum implemented properly. In any other subject we don’t abandon the subject if some teachers don’t implemented it properly.

    This is from the preamble for the elementary school course.

    “[T]here is a shift from confessional instruction reserved for Catholics and Protestants, albeit instruction which opened a door to cultural and religious diversity, to a common program of instruction in religious culture for all students. This instruction is aimed at an informed understanding of the many forms of religious expression present in Québec society and in the world. It is considered “cultural” because it is aimed at the ability to grasp the field of religion by means of its various forms of expression in time and space. It allows for understanding the signs in which the religious experiences of individuals and groups are conveyed that contribute to shaping society. Moreover, it does not espouse any particular set of beliefs or moral references”

    This does not say all religions are equal anymore than teaching children about democracy, communism, facism and theocracies in history class makes all forms of government equal.

    It seems the only solution that would satify some people is to remove all references to religion from public schools. No literature that includes religion, no history that includes the Church’s role in western civilization, no religion inspired music, no study of religious based art, no mention in science class of the fact that Copernicus was a Catholic cleric, Mendel was a monk and George Lemaitre was a priest. Any mention of any of these topics may go against what a religious person has presented to their child. I know many atheists would agree with this but I wouldn’t.

  11. In response to the many posts by “Michael” on the divine/myth question, I would like to point out top “Michael” several points that he appears to have ignored.
    1) The claim that “divinity” is always mentioned in the same sentence as part of the list — “divine, mythological or supernatural beings” — was made by THE LAWYER REPRESENTING THE PLAINTIFFS. I was merely reporting it,so his ad hominem attacks on SOCOn or the article itself are misplaced.
    2) The curriculum does in fact so state, and is therefore NOT being misrepresented.
    3) Neither the judges nor the other lawyers contested that this enumeration does in fact equate the divine with a myth. The mere fact that “Micheal” claims it does not, doesnt make it so.
    4) Michael’s nitpicking at this point and his ad hominem attacks (not to mention his “gouv.qc” email address) make his intellectual honesty (and ability?) open to question.
    MIchael, the curriculum, is as stated. The “rapprochement” of the two terms is as stated. You are entitled to your personal opinion that this does NOT equate the divine with the myths. However, this IS just your personal opinion and many others disagree with you. This does not make them dishonest, does not mean they haven’t read the curriculum (which they most assurededly have, in painstaking detail). Also while you claim the right to discern their moral teachings from their religious ones , they DO mean morally instructing their children . Admittedly their moral instruction, as stated by the lawyers at the Supreme Court, is given in a religious context. Their point is that they are entitled to so instruct their children without the State muddying the waters for the children and instructing them differently.
    Maybe you need to develop some of the intellectual humility which is a pre-requisite to fruitful discussion.

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