Court ruling affirms freedom of religion for Quebec Catholic school

  • June 24, 2010
JusticeA Quebec parents’ group is hailing a court ruling that allows a private Montreal Catholic high school to be exempt from a provincially mandated ethics course as a victory for freedom of religion and parental rights.

On June 21, Quebec’s Superior Court slammed the “totalitarian” approach of the Quebec government and ruled that Loyola High School can not be forced to teach the controversial Ethics and Religious Culture course because it infringes upon their charter rights of free expression and religion.

Jean Morse-Chevrier, president of the Association des Parents Catholique du Québec, told The Catholic Register from Montreal the group applauds the outcome because it affirms parents’ rights to choose a Catholic education for their children. The provincial course approaches religion and morals from a secular and relativist perspective which would be incompatible with a Catholic education, she said.

The Catholic Civil Rights League is also lauding the decision and hopes that “the same spirit of choice and respect for parental rights (are) upheld for all students.”

Morse-Chevrier noted that the current ruling specifically applies to Loyola. But she said the group hopes other private Catholic schools would follow Loyola’s lead and seek exemptions.

In his 63-page ruling, Judge Gérard Dugré noted that: “The obligation imposed on Loyola to teach the Ethics and Religious Culture course in a lay fashion assumes a totalitarian quality essentially equivalent to the order given to Galileo by the Inquisition to renounce the Copernican cosmology.”

He ruled that trying to compel Loyola to follow rigidly secular teaching guidelines was a violation of the school’s freedom of religion as guaranteed by the province’s Charter of Rights.

The Quebec government said it will appeal the decision. In Quebec, private Catholic schools receive some government funding.

Loyola sought the right to teach the ethics course from a Catholic perspective. The new course was introduced last September for Grades 1 to 11 students. It replaced the traditional choice of Catholic, Protestant and non-sectarian moral instruction being offered in Quebec’s publicly funded schools.

Loyola principal Paul Donovan said while he’s not thrilled with the government’s appeal, it would contribute to the ongoing discussion about the role of religion and religious institutions in a secular society.

“The way the course was set up and the way it was sort of imposed on everybody was essentially saying you have to adopt a secular perspective, period, and the pursuit of the common good and respect for others can only be done through a secular way,” Donovan said. “The question is, it comes right down to whether it’s possible to contribute to society as Catholics. The judge said, ‘Of course you can.’ There’s something amiss when you say you have to do away with all religious aspects to be a contributor.”

Other Quebec parents, including Drummondville, Que., resident Susan Lavallée, had asked for an exemption but their requests were rejected by the provincial court. Lavalleé has since applied for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, with the support of many Catholic groups.

Lavalleé said she objected to the new course because it would have “consequences on the education and faith” of her children.

Aside from presenting religion in relativist terms, Lavalleé said forcing parents to have their children learn the material was trampling on their democratic rights.

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