TORONTO, September 27, 2007 – The League responds to the anti-religious and anti-Catholic tone of the recent brief of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which asked the province of Ontario not to extend funding to faith-based schools and to cease funding Catholic schools:
In making its case for one secular, publicly-funded system, the CCLA’s brief mentions shameful historical episodes including the wartime internment of Japanese Canadians, the denial of voting rights to many aboriginal persons, severe restrictions on the immigration of Holocaust victims to Canada and restrictions on immigration from developing countries. It is not entirely clear how those episodes inform the current debate, or how religious schools are in any way responsible for the development of Canadian policy initiatives in previous decades. The effort to link such historical problems with the funding of faith-based schools, or the historical support of Catholic schools in Ontario is highly inflammatory, and without foundation.
If the CCLA believes that the funding of religious schools, and in particular Catholic schools, poses a risk of producing a breeding ground of intolerance, it would be expected that they disclose the evidence of any such allegation. It is likely due to the success and contribution of Catholic graduates of Catholic schools in Ontario that concerns over tolerance or societal health can only produce rhetorical statements, and cannot be supported by concrete evidence.
However, the CCLA position is evidence that anti-Catholic sentiment exists in Ontario. In fact, in our experience it is often not far from the surface when people discuss Catholic issues, including Catholic schools. There are Canadians still living who remember when it was commonplace to be asked your religion in a job interview, and who knew that answering “Catholic” would often put your application at the bottom of the pile. These days the sentiment is more likely to come out in sneering cartoons, inflammatory columns and letters to the editor about news related to the Church, or the casual broadcasting of sick jokes that would never be tolerated against any other faith group. Not without reason is anti-Catholic sentiment often called “the last acceptable prejudice.”
The debate about how or whether to bring other religions into the public funding fold can and should be conducted without indulging in prejudice against faith groups and without fear-mongering. Catholic schools educate about 1/3 of Ontario’s students. About 53,000 other students are already enrolled in schools that teach their faith. In general, their contribution to society, informed by the rich traditions of their religions, is a positive one. Suggesting that they create intolerance and divisiveness is a serious charge, and without foundation.
The CCLA should be supporting the legitimate freedom of parents to choose the proper educational model for their children, without undue economic sacrifice. The CCLA position would not lead to greater social integration under the hegemony of a state imposed curriculum, but more likely a greater expansion of private schools outside of the public curriculum model. However, for future reference, the CCLA position in favour of an educational model imposed by a state monopoly, with no economic support for the exercise of the civil liberty of parents to choose a more diverse educational choice for their children, will be duly noted.