DRUMMONDVILLE, Quebec, Sept. 3, 2009 (CCRL) – The Quebec Superior Court has ruled against parents who, opposed to the compulsory Ethics and religious culture curriculum, had requested that their fundamental rights of freedom of conscience and religion be respected.

In a ruling issued Sept. 1 in Drummondville, Justice Jean-Guy Dubois rejected a request from parents seeking an exemption for their children from the province’s new – and controversial – course in ethics and religious culture and concluded their right to freedom of religion is not being violated.

In his 42-page ruling, Dubois said he couldn’t see how a Catholic child’s right to freedom of religion could be violated just by following the course. And since the course teaches about all religions, there is nothing obligatory or coercive about it, he said.

The Association of Catholic Parents in Quebec (ACPQ) rejects the judgment as unacceptable, because it deprives citizens of all faiths the fundamental right of parents to guide their children in religious and moral development according to their own convictions, and interferes with the freedom of religion and conscience of our youth, the ACPQ said in a statement.

“The judge rejected an offer of proof of a recent statement from the Vatican which expresses and confirms the position of the Church on teaching religions in schools. This document, published by the Congregation for Catholic Education May 5, 2009, clearly says, ‘If religious education is limited to an exposition of comparative religion, supposedly neutral, it will be the source of confusion, or induce belief in relativism or indifferentism.’ The document recalls that such instruction violates the rights of parents when children are required to take a course of instruction which is contrary to the religious conviction of parents or imposes a form of education in which all religious instruction is excluded.

“On the other hand, if as the judgment claims, John Paul II recognized the importance of an objective knowledge of religions, he primarily affirmed the duty of public schools to make room for the presence of a true teaching of religion within its walls. As was said by the Congregation for Catholic Education: Public education “must guarantee to parents, precisely because it is open to all, not only that instruction will not endanger the religious faith of their children, but on the contrary, will complete their integral formation by providing them with an adequate religious instruction in their faith. This principle should be included in the concept of religious freedom and idea of a truly democratic state, respectful of its most profound and authentic nature, seeking to serve its citizens and respect their rights and religious convictions.”

“There is no possible basis in the documents cited by the judge for him to claim that the compulsory study of other religions at a very young age is acceptable to the Vatican,” said Marie Bourque, spokeswoman for the ACPQ. “Traditionally, such instruction was given toward the end of secondary school when children already understand their own religion and have attained sufficient maturity to study world religions.”

Mrs. Bourque added, “This judgment diminishes the importance of parents in the education of their children. Furthermore, it creates a dangerous precedent in that a civil court has imposed its own interpretation of the teaching of a church based upon a biased viewpoint in order to deny fundamental rights of parents and their children. It is not for the government or the courts, or even churches, to replace parents in the choice of religious and moral education of their children.”

Said Marie-Josee Crouteau, president of the Coalition for Freedom in Education (CLE),
“We are shocked. This judgment is based on an interpretation of  Catholic doctrine whereas we claim that the rights of all the parents, whether Catholic, Protestant or Atheist, are to be respected.”

According to the Coalition’s spokesman, Richard Décarie, “the courts are qualified to rule on the sincerity of the religious or philosophical belief of the plaintiff. But the State is not in a position to referee between interpretations of religious faiths, nor should it do so in the future.”

The Coalition questions thus the legal basis of this decision. The parents’ lawyers will be analyzing the grounds of this decision, and an appeal is being considered.

Two other decisions related to the ERC course are awaited: one involving pupils in Granby who were suspended for not having attended ERC classes, and the other involving Loyola High School, a private school in Montreal which requested that it be allowed to adapt the ERC to comply with its religious mandate.

–  Of God and Government. National Post Commentary (Sept. 14/09) in favour of parental choice by John Carpay and Karen Selick of the Canadian Constitution Foundation. Mr. Carpay is a former League director.