Quebec court says parents can't pull kids from religion course

  • September 4, 2009
{mosimage}OTTAWA - A Quebec Superior Court judge has ruled against Drummondville parents who want to remove their children from a mandatory ethics and religious culture course.

The parents had sued their local school board, arguing violation of parental rights and religious freedom. But the Aug. 31 decision ruled the course does not violate religious freedom.

The decision relied heavily on the testimony of Fr. Gilles Routhier, who teaches theology at Laval University in Quebec, and who was called as an expert witness by the school board.

In an interview Sept. 1, Routhier said he testified according to texts of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. He told the court the course did not violate religious freedom because it does not pressure students to believe in convictions they do not share.

The testimony was a sharp blow to the parent Coalition for Freedom in Education (CLÉ), a group representing citizens across the province, objected to the state acting as an interpreter of religious beliefs.

“To see a judgment that is so precisely based on Catholic dogma is a surprise to us,” said CLÉ spokesperson Richard Décarie in an interview Sept. 1.

He said the courts are qualified to judge whether beliefs are sincerely held, but not to referee among various interpretations of religious belief, as presented by Routhier.

CLÉ also represents evangelical parents who pulled their children out of the the course in Granby, Que. CLÉ leads a growing movement of parents from other religions who oppose the course.

“It’s not a question of interpreting one religion against another, it’s a question of rights,” Décarie said. “At the coalition we have proven that the content is a real prejudice against the beliefs of Catholic parents and those of other religions.”

He said CLÉ will assist the parents if they continue this fight up to the Supreme Court. The Drummondville parents are conferring with their lawyers on whether they will appeal. 

“The parents’ modest means, when compared to those of the state, financed by our very own taxes, will not prevent us from appealing against this decision, if need be,” said CLÉ president Marie-Josée Croteau.

The Drummondville decision could have an impact on a lawsuit by parents of Loyola High School students. The Loyola parents sued the province, arguing the private Montreal Catholic school should not be forced to teach the religion and ethics course.

Décarie expressed disappointment the Assembly of Quebec Catholic Bishops has not sided with the parents. Instead, the bishops indicated they would withhold judgment for three years from the course’s introduction in 2008. Then they would assess concerns about content and how it has been implemented.

There is division among the Quebec bishops, however. Quebec Cardinal Marc Ouellet is among those who have spoken against the compulsory course.

CLÉ objects to the way the course puts all religions on an equal footing, arguing it could lead children to reject their parents’ faith.

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