High school students in Ontario differ in opinion on the value of Catholic education. CNS photo/Matthew Barrick

Students split on religious studies

By  Bianca Reátegui, Youth Speak News
  • October 31, 2014

BRAMPTON, ONT. - The law might give some students a pass from religious studies in Catholic high schools, but that doesn’t mean non-Catholic students are opting out of religion class. 

Sagarikka Gopinath, a Grade 12 student at Holy Name of Mary Catholic Secondary School in Brampton, was unaware that she could request to drop religious education; however, she said that she would not choose that path. 

“I think it’s better to learn about religion,” Gopinath said. “I don’t think of (religious education) just as Catholic religion, I think of it as just religion as a whole… it focuses on yourself too, so I think I would still take it.” 

The Ontario Education Act states that Catholic high school students can be exempted from religious education with their parents’ written application (or the student’s, if they are over 16 and have withdrawn from parental control) submitted to the relevant school board for the exemption. 

But Gopinath, a Hindu student, said she decided to attend a Catholic high school because of Holy Name of Mary’s academic reputation (it ranks first out of all Brampton high schools), but also to receive religious instruction. 

“I heard that the education was good,” she said. “And I thought that if I went to a Catholic school, I’d learn more about religion. I just thought it’d be a better education than a public school.” 

She also calls attending Mass at school “a fun experience.” 

“It’s different (because) I’m not really used to (going to Mass), so for these four years I found it actually fun,” Gopinath said. 

Farwa Khtana, a Grade 12 student at Holy Name of Mary, says whether or not she would take religious studies was dependent on the religion course itself. 

“I would take it if the things that we’re learning are more objective than subjective,” said Khtana, who describes herself as “a proud Muslim.” 

“For example, in Grade 11 Religion, we learn about things that are actual, concrete information… we actually learn about other cultures and stuff.” 

Conversely, her Grade 12 classmate, Emilia de Fabriitis, says that she would drop the religious education course if possible. 

“I wouldn’t take it because I think the entire idea of (religion courses) is completely unnecessary. I think that, as someone who went to an elementary school that was Catholic, you learn about the same thing since kindergarten,” she said. 

Out of their four years of supposedly compulsory religious education, both students agreed that the Grade 11 World Religions course was the most beneficial religion course to their education. 

“(Learning about world religions) benefits you because you learn so many different things about yourself that maybe your religion doesn’t talk about,” said de Fabritiis, a recently converted Buddhist. “It opens your mind.” 

“I think it’s more comparative,” Khtana says on the value of the Grade 11 course. 

“I can compare my religion to other religions and see the difference and I am able to understand my own better.” 

In April, the Ontario Superior Court ruled that a student at Notre Dame Catholic Secondary School in Brampton did not have to participate in any religious programs (such as liturgies and retreats). Since then, Ontario Catholic high school students have started to learn that they may be able to opt out of religious education. 

Catholic school boards in Ontario have been reluctant to allow student exemptions from religious education. At the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year, Ontario teacher Paul Blake was reprimanded for telling students they could drop religion. 

(Reátegui, 16, is a Grade 12 student at Holy Name of Mary Catholic Secondary School in Brampton, Ont.) 

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