On December 4, 2012 the Quebec Court of Appeal released a shocking decision, one that has direct implications for Reformed education in Canada. Perhaps our readers are wondering how three Quebec judges could possibly have anything to say about an independent Reformed school in Ontario or Western Canada. Rest assured that they do.
The decision of the Court of Appeal requires Loyola High School, a private Roman Catholic institution, to teach the province’s Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC) course, and to teach it from a “secular” perspective. The Court of Appeal decision declared that because Loyola’s own World Religions course is Catholic in orientation, it could not be considered equivalent to the ERC program, because the ERC course was specifically designed to be religiously “neutral”.
According to the Catholic Civil Rights League, the school had asked to cover the course material in a religion program based on its own Catholic perspective or worldview, a request that was upheld by the Quebec Superior Court but appealed by the province. Loyola produced the requests for exemption on behalf of its entire school community, supported by expert opinions on the merits of its program as compared to the Quebec ERC curriculum. In fact, ARPA has reported on a social-scientific, academic study by Cardus which proves that independent, parent-run schools produce better citizens. The trial judge accepted that position, stating at one point that the Quebec government’s position was verging on totalitarianism. (See the English translation of that judgement here.)
With this ruling, the Court of Appeal chose to overrule the trial judge’s decision, which was based on extensive expert evidence, in favour of the ambitions of the Quebec government, which stated that its program was better suited for greater tolerance in society (a position based in blind ideological conformity to the secular state, and not based on social-scientific research). Apparently, that “greater tolerance in society” only goes so far. Tolerance of the Roman Catholic or Christian worldview seems… intolerable. The irony of this ruling could only be lost on judges at the highest levels it seems.
The Court of Appeal has seriously infringed upon the right of parents to direct the religious education of their children. This precedent-setting decision creates a dilemma for Catholic parents in Quebec, and indeed all Christian parents who may seek to send their children to a private or independent Christian school to avail their children of an authentic moral and religious upbringing in accordance with their faith and religious worldview, a right which a robust understanding of the Canadian Charter of Rights should recognize and guarantee.
The teaching of world religions as preferred by the Court of Appeal devalues religion in favour of a phenomenalist and relativistic approach. The judgment gives more clout to provincial governments across the country, governments which devalue the religious rights of their citizens and their institutions. The precedent has now been set for a forced separation between “education” and faith, between mandatory “secular” indoctrination and faithful worldview training.
This is not the first time this course has been challenged in Court. In February 2012, the Supreme Court ruled against parents who wanted to pull their children out of the mandatory course in a publicly funded school. The Supreme Court ruled that the parents had not demonstrated that the course objectively harmed their religious freedom. You can read more about that case here.
ARPA Canada hopes that the Loyola school will appeal to the Supreme Court in order to overturn this dangerous decision. The Supreme Court needs to uphold parental rights in education, to protect freedom of religion and association from the totalitarian impulses of government, and to recognize and affirm the right and benefit of allowing the Christian worldview into the public square.