Can Quebec impose, without the possibility of an exemption, a school program of study about religion and ethics on those who view it as infringing on their religious beliefs and their freedom of conscience?
That’s the question a Catholic couple from Quebec wants the Supreme Court of Canada to decide. The court will begin hearing arguments today.
Currently, the province mandates that every student in private, religious and public schools take “Ethics, Religion and Culture” classes that cover world religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Wicca.
According to a Postmedia News report, before the course was introduced, the Quebec government said the classes were designed to be inclusive and would respect the freedom of conscience and religion of each student.
But there were to be no exemptions for any reason. And there’s the rub.
“This case will cut to the core of what freedom of religion and conscience and parental authority mean in Canada,” said Don Hutchinson, vice president and general legal counsel at Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, according to an Ontario newspaper. “Parents simply want the right to teach morality and religion from their perspective, or decide who will do so on their behalf. The right to pass on one’s religious and cultural heritage to their children is a fundamental aspect of religious freedom and parental authority in Canada.”
Some 2,000 parents want an exemption and they have joined forces with civil libertarians to fight the mandate, which began in 2008.
In 2010, a Quebec Superior Court judge criticized the government for imposing the classes without allowing for exemptions in a ruling that led to an exemption for one private religious school, Loyola High.
“The obligation imposed on Loyola to teach ERC subjects from a secular perspective takes on a totalitarian character that is essentially equivalent to the order that the Inquisition gave Galileo to renounce the Copernican cosmology,” wrote Quebec Superior Court Justice Gérard Dugré in his 2010 ruling.
The Supreme Court of Canada is not expected to rule on the matter until fall.