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Let parents make religious decision for kids

  • June 22, 2007
Editor’s note: In September 2008 the Quebec government will replace the options in religious and moral education in public schools by the imposition of a single multi-religious course of ethics and religious culture along with the forbiddance, in public but not private schools, of all confessional religious education. This commentary on the issue is written by Jean Morse-Chevrier, president of the Catholic Parents Association of Quebec and first published in Le Devoir on June 4 in French. The author provided this English translation to The Catholic Register.
On May 3, Georges Leroux, philosopher and specialist in ethics for the Quebec Ministry of Education, Leisure and Sports, gave a talk on the new course of ethics and religious culture to the members of the Fédération des établissements de l’enseignement privé (Federation for Private Teaching Institutions). According to Leroux, in opting for this course on a number of religions and world visions, Quebec is ensuring that “our children will be better than us because they will be, firstly, more open to religious and moral diversity and more committed to normative pluralism. They will believe that it is preferable to be plural than homogeneous.”

Leroux admitted that this course would entail “a considerable reconfiguration of the expectations for the construction of identity” of the students.

Should we conclude from this testimony that the government is trying to change “our children” (those of the state?) from Christians (for the great majority) to pluralists? If this is the case, its intentions go beyond the orientations it announced for this course when it obtained the support of the national assembly for Bill 95 in June 2005. It would be seeking not only openness to others, as announced, but would be seeking to have the student assimilate moral and religious diversity at the very time of the construction of his or her identity. For how is it possible to construct a personal pluralist identity without leaving behind one’s own confessional identity?

Leroux stated: “The first reason that we, the government and all those who have supported it, judged that it is necessary, even essential to draw up the course of ethics and religious culture, is normative pluralism. It is essential that diversified experience, both on the moral and the religious level, be valued in its diversity.”

Should we conclude that our society will be better when these children, once grown up, are pluralists rather than Christians? If this is the position of the minister of education, she should be called upon to demonstrate this, before imposing multi-religious content on all students and before experimenting with the religious and moral identity of Quebeckers.

This being said, children are the primary responsibility of their parents. They should be the ones to decide which ethical teaching or religious culture to pass on to their children, whether they choose Leroux’s state vision or not.

Leroux also justifies normative pluralism on the basis that there are “60 ethnic groups or religions” present in some schools in Montreal. A great number of these ethnic groups are Christian, in Montreal as elsewhere. The only significant new group in Quebec is that of the Muslims. It is also the group that is the most involved in the “crisis” in France, a crisis that Leroux says he wants avoided in Quebec with the new program.

Is it to integrate the small percentage of Muslims to the Quebec culture that the ministry is imposing this course or to open up Christian children (75 per cent of the student population) to Islam? That is the question. But instead of deciding for the parents, why not let them choose which religion is best for their children?

Leroux sees the private schools as having the duty to transmit the Catholic tradition in order that it be conserved, because, he says, religions are important in order to understand history, literature and the meaning of existence. Parents, he says, expect the private schools to fulfil this “mission” of conservation. However, the government will not allow these schools the liberty to teach their religion within the hours set out in the pedagogical regime and they will have difficulty finding other ways of doing it.

On the other hand, is Leroux certain that parents of children in public schools don’t also want the school to pass on this tradition?  The 75 per cent of parents who choose Catholic moral and religious education (in the public system) seem to care about it. And how is it ethically possible to justify the position that the better endowed private schools can benefit from Catholic moral and religious education while taking it away from the public schools? Is this justification sufficiently solid to withstand future objections by the adversaries of private schools?

The course of ethics and religious culture will grant more time to the Christian religions than to the others. Will the application of the Charter require, in the near future, that Christianity no longer be privileged in this new course? And then what will follow: the abandonment of the course of ethics and religious culture? The teaching on the same footing as Christianity, of Islam and other religions, or the introduction in the school of a single universal religion which, Leroux says, is the way of the future according to some? It is not unreasonable to ask the question.

Is it not time to leave to parents the choice regarding the moral and religious education of their children, even if it requires taking the risk that they might prefer their own religion and not the normative pluralism of the Ministry of Education?

It is, I believe, the only way to respect the charter and to be just towards everyone: parents, children, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims or others. It is a choice that is possible for a government that cares enough about the respect of freedom of conscience and religion to search for new avenues with its partners from civil society.

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