Quebec Court decision another step back

  • March 12, 2010

A recent decision by the Quebec Court of Appeal that placed the state’s interest ahead of parental rights should be on the radar of everyone interested in preserving Catholic education.

The case involved Catholic parents from Drummondville who sought a court order to exempt their two sons from attending a classroom program called Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC). ERC was launched in 2008 and is compulsory in Quebec from Grades 1 to 11 in both private and public schools, including Catholic schools. The program was created to help foster harmony between cultures and religions and, to that end ERC examines multiple world religions, moral codes and belief systems and treats each with equal weight and merit.

The parents argued that ERC violated the family’s right of religious freedom because, in forcing this “even-handed” educational approach to ethics and religion, the government was introducing children to teachings and beliefs that often conflict with lessons taught at home and church. The parents were supported by various religious and non-religious groups that believe moral and religious education is the prerogative of parents and the state has no business imposing a curriculum that may conflict with  personal family values.

But their argument was rejected by Quebec’s Superior Court in August and in February the Court of Appeal refused to hear the case because, said the judge, it was “doomed to failure.” That left Quebec’s education ministry to applaud a ruling that, in essence, affirmed that the will of the state trumps parental rights on matters of religious education.

The argument, though, is not about the right to offer such courses. It can be acceptable to foster tolerance by exposing children of an appropriate age to fact-based courses on world religions. But ERC is troubling because it is compulsory and it promotes moral relativism while offering an all-inclusive notion of what constitutes religion.

The state has no business promoting a particular moral code or interpreting belief systems. That is a role for parents. Nor is it appropriate for the state to teach that all religious beliefs are valid and equal. Doing so can only confuse children by contradicting religious instruction they receive at home and at church. Pseudo-religious instruction also undermines parents who are raising children according to the moral and religious tenets of a specific faith.

The Quebec ruling should be a wake-up call because it is yet another example of the creeping secularism that is numbing society in general and threatening Catholic education in particular.

Catholic education is the oldest educational system in Canada. It has thrived because it is different and unique in its faith and in its commitment to promote a distinct Catholic culture and values.

But as society becomes more secular, Catholic education becomes more endangered. The Quebec ruling takes Catholic education one more step in the wrong direction.

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