Catholics must be prepared for an attack on education rights

By  Catholic Civil Rights League
  • May 11, 2007
Editor’s note: The following is a position paper produced by the Catholic Civil Rights League on “The question of Catholic school funding.” 

As Ontario prepares for an election in October, several groups are trying to raise the question of continued funding for the province’s Catholic elementary and secondary schools. Some claim that all publicly funded schools would be operated more efficiently if there was one, non-sectarian system, with school boards drawn geographically and, in most localities, in French or English streams. Several public school boards have already passed resolutions to this effect.
As Ontario prepares for an election in October, several groups are trying to raise the question of continued funding for the province’s Catholic elementary and secondary schools. Some claim that all publicly funded schools would be operated more efficiently if there was one, non-sectarian system, with school boards drawn geographically and, in most localities, in French or English streams. Several public school boards have already passed resolutions to this effect.

Others claim that public funding for religious schools, currently enjoyed only by Catholics, should be extended to other faith groups in the name of fairness and respect for religious equality. This position is shared by the League, the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association, among others. A multi-faith coalition in Ontario is hoping to make the securing of some form of funding for non-Catholic religious schools an election issue.

All three major political parties in Ontario are officially committed to the continuance of Catholic school funding, but there is no question that its opponents are not only trying to end it, but also trying to make it an election issue. We encourage our supporters to reflect on the many ways Catholic schools enrich our society, and to be prepared to defend them in the election campaign. We commend the Catholic school boards which have offered information nights and visioning sessions to facilitate this process.

Why now?


The belief that all publicly funded schools should be non-sectarian has always been common enough in Ontario, but there is no question that the growth of secularism has given it a wider following. The past few decades have seen numerous human rights and court cases where secular values have challenged religious ones. The result, in general, has seen non-sectarian values win out over religious ones in public life.

The legalization of same-sex “marriage” has put pressure on publicly funded schools to treat all relationships as being of equal value to society. In British Columbia, this has led the province to pledge to review all curriculum with a view to making it more “gay friendly” (see update of League activities on this challenge). Catholic teaching upholds the equality and dignity of all people, but also holds that homosexual conduct is immoral. It is therefore not surprising that some of Canada’s leading “gay rights” activists have put their support behind the campaign to de-fund Catholic schools.

As our supporters know, the League participated in all the major court challenges on the marriage question. Throughout the debate, we said that changing the definition of marriage would lead to problems in a variety of areas that, at first glance, may not even seem related to the issue. While there is more than one force at work in the campaign to de-fund Catholic schools, support from groups actively hostile to the church should not be discounted.

As a non-partisan lay organization, we suggest that our supporters educate themselves about this issue and be prepared to discuss it with election candidates. It would be fundamentally unfair to take away a legal right and social reality that has been in place since Confederation. There is a good case to be made for extending funding to other faith-based schools, not for attempting to de-fund the schools that educate about one-third of the province’s students.

At the same time, the experience across Canada suggests that Catholic schools will be lost if there is political pressure to do so, especially if it is combined with passivity or agreement on the part of Catholic parents and other stakeholders in the Catholic community.

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