March 31, 2011 OTTAWA – The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) will be presenting arguments to the Supreme Court of Canada on a case to be heard May 18, 2011. S.L., et al. v. Commission scolaire des Chênes, et al., a case originating in Quebec, will address the issue of whether parents have the right to choose the kind of education their children will receive, particularly in regard to religious instruction.
“This case will cut to the core of what freedom of religion and conscience and parental authority mean in Canada,” states Don Hutchinson, EFC Vice-President and General Legal Counsel. “Parents simply want the right to teach morality and religion from their perspective, or decide who will do so on their behalf. The right to pass on one’s religious and cultural heritage to their children is a fundamental aspect of religious freedom and parental authority in Canada.”
At issue is the Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC) program, a mandatory course which must be taught to all québécois children, from grade 1 to grade 11, whether they attend public or private schools, or are homeschooled. The course, which states its objective as the instruction of children in a manner that will promote tolerance and respect, thus equipping them to live a pluralist society, has proven to be polarizing and controversial. Its mandate, while at first appearance seeming at home in Canada’s multicultural society, actually sacrifices certain rights and values in order to advance others.
“Parents in the evangelical Christian community are split on the ERC program,” explains Faye Sonier, EFC Legal Counsel. “Some welcome the opportunity for children to learn about the contribution of religious communities to the culture of Quebec. Others are concerned that teaching young children about a variety of religions as required by the course will convey to them that all religious beliefs and all moral codes are relative or of equal merit. However, most agree that parents should have the right to choose whether or not their children participate in the program. Unfortunately, all parents who have requested that their children be exempted from the classroom have been refused.”
“Parents are asking that their parental authority be affirmed so they can exempt their children from course material that is inconsistent with their sincerely held religious beliefs”, explains Hutchinson. “Provinces across Canada permit classroom exemptions, either in regulation or practice, or other forms of accommodation. Further, the province of Quebec has yet to demonstrate why this course is mandatory to ensure a peaceful and tolerant society. Canada’s longstanding tradition of education from a Judaeo-Christian foundation has bred a vibrant, multicultural nation known for its acceptance of others and tolerance for differing opinions and religious beliefs.”
“To compel tolerance is to dispense with it. Every religion is, in essence, exclusive. Compelling tolerance by state-mandated compulsory religious and moral education can only be accomplished by violating the freedom of religion and conscience of each religiously devout individual,” concludes Sonier.
A related case still in the Quebec court system involves Montreal’s Loyola High School which sought the right to teach the ERC program from a Catholic perspective. The Ministry of Education denied the school permission to do so. Justice Gérard Dugré of the Quebec Superior Court stated that the decision to impose the course on the Catholic school demonstrated “a totalitarian character essentially equivalent to Galileo’s being ordered by the Inquisition to deny Copernican universe.”
For more information about religious freedom in the education setting and parental rights, please visit www.theEFC.ca/education
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