Children Must Take Interfaith Religion Class, Canada's Supreme Court Rules

Canada's Supreme Court has recently ruled that children in Quebec cannot opt out of a public school religion class, even if their parents take issue with the curriculum.

In a S.L. v. Commission scolaire des Chênes, which was decided on Friday, the highest court in the country refused to hear an appeal from two Catholic parents who took issue with their child being enrolled in the province's Ethics and Religious Culture program. The course teaches about the many religions in Canada and their contributions to the nation's culture.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, a national organization of evangelical Christians founded in 1964, was one of many organizations that intervened in the case on behalf of the parents.

"Religious freedom and the right to parental authority are robustly regarded and guaranteed in Canada," said Faye Sonier, legal counsel for the Centre for Faith and Public Life, the legal wing of EFC, in an interview with The Christian Post.

"If parents have sincerely held religious beliefs and do not wish to expose their children to certain programming … that may conflict with their beliefs, their wishes should be honored."

In 2008, the Quebec Education Department made the Ethics and Religious Culture course a mandatory class for all students in the province.

The parents, who are listed as "L" and "J" in court documents, believed the mandatory course interfered with their child's religious upbringing.

According to court documents, the parents felt children "would be exposed to a form of relativism which would interfere with their ability to pass their faith on to their children. They also maintain that exposing children to various religious facts is confusing for them."

However, the Supreme Court refused to hear the argument, believing that the parents could not adequately prove that their child would be harmed by the curriculum.

"…early exposure of children to realities that differ from those in their immediate family environment is a fact of life in society," reads the decision.

"The suggestion that exposing children to a variety of religious facts in itself infringes their religious freedom or that of their parents amounts to a rejection of the multicultural reality of Canadian society and ignores the Quebec government's obligations with regard to public education."

Sonier told CP that despite the court's reasoning, the decision to enroll in an interfaith class "lies with the parents."

"Canadian and international law are clear: parents have the right to determine the education of their children," said Sonier.

"They choose who will teach their children and the means by which it is done, whether it is homeschooling or at a private, public or denominational school. Canadian parents can be trusted to raise their children and makes decisions that will be in their best interest."

Sonier believes that because the decision did not directly address the merit of the ERC course, odds were good another similar case could come to their docket in the near future.

"As the court did not endorse the constitutionality of the ERC program, the stage is essentially set for the case to again appear before the court, in 4 to 7 years, after it has re-wound its way through the legal system," said the attorney.

"It will likely be another set of parents who will be trying to clearly demonstrate an objective violation of their religious freedoms."

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