John Zucchi

Quebec school ruling another "blow" to Catholic education

  • December 11, 2012

OTTAWA - A Quebec Court of Appeal decision forcing a private Catholic high school

in Montreal to teach the province's mandatory Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC) course is seen by a Catholic parents’ group as a blow to religious freedom and the right of Catholic institutions to be Catholic.

The Quebec Court of Appeal ruled Dec. 4 Loyola High School must teach the ERC as is, without allowing the school to offer an equivalent program.

Loyola sought to teach its own world religions and ethics course instead of the ERC. The Minister of Education determined the course was not equivalent because it taught the course from a Catholic standpoint. The Minister ordered Loyola to teach the ERC from a neutral perspective, since the point of the ERC is to foster tolerance and dialogue in pursuit of the common good.
In 2010, Loyola won at the lower court level but the Quebec Court of Appeal overturned the lower court and reinstated the Minister’s decision.

Marie Bourque, vice president of the Association of Catholic Parents of Quebec (APCQ), “deplored” the ERC’s imposition on all Quebec children as “a set of amalgamated religions, beliefs, myths and legends.” The ERC puts forward the idea all religions “are the same or equivalent” and “inventions of the human mind” like fantasies or myths, said Bourque. “If you say that, you are rejecting the divinity of Jesus Christ and the whole of Christianity.”

Bourque pointed out Loyola’s course was much more comprehensive and involved inviting a rabbi and an imam to discuss their respective beliefs. The ERC does not show the historical origins of religions or show how they answer basic philosophical questions, she added.

The decision confirms the state’s process of imposing a secularist and relativist outlook on all schools, even confessional schools, Bourque said.

“But atheistic and materialist beliefs come out winning.”

John Zucchi, one of the parents who launched the lawsuit, called the decision “a great disappointment.”

The plaintiffs have 60 days to decide whether to seek leave to appeal this decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. Zucchi said they are still reviewing the issues raised by the Court of Appeal’s decision with their lawyers. A the decision will be made in the New Year, he said.

The court ruled it is a minimal intrusion on religious freedom to require for one hour a day a teacher step outside of his or her Catholic faith and adopt a neutral position as the ERC requires. The decision said the school is free to teach from a confessional standpoint outside ERC program time.

The Court of Appeal relied on arguments in last spring’s Supreme Court of Canada’s Drummondville Parents’ decision that said the parents who wished to have their children exempted from the ERC at the public school on religious freedom grounds had not sufficiently proven the course would harm their ability to pass on their Catholic faith.

At stake, however, is the right of a Catholic institution to be Catholic. The ERC encourages children to question what they have been taught in church or at home, Bourque pointed out. “It sort of vaccinates children against all faiths by teaching them you can fabricate your own religion.”

Zucchi said the Loyola case differs from that of the Drummondville in that Loyola stresses the right to teach the course from the Catholic perspective, while the Drummondville parents sought to exempt their children from the ERC altogether.

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