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:
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
The Canadian Council of Christian Charities
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.”