OTTAWA, May 13, 2009 – The Catholic Civil Rights League supports the right of parents to direct the education of their children, and in particular to choose the religious education of their children. Both rights are the subject of a court hearing in Quebec Superior Court this week, in which a group of parents is seeking exemption from the Ethics and Religious Culture course recently made mandatory in all Quebec schools. The course replaces Catholic, Protestant and non-sectarian moral instruction in elementary and secondary schools.
The case, being heard in Drummondville, was brought by two local parents, who argue that the compulsory school course titled Ethics and Religious Culture violates their religious convictions. The case highlights many of the concerns Catholic and other parents have been expressing since the course was announced several years ago. (It was launched in September, 2008.) There have been applications for exemptions on behalf of more than 1,700 students. All were refused. At that point some parents removed their children from the class, but faced various sanctions including suspension of the students.
At one high school in Granby, six students were suspended from all classes for boycotting the course. Opposition to the course is being spearheaded by the Coalition for Freedom in Education, with Richard Décarie as its spokesman and about 100,000 members. The Quebec Association of Catholic Parents, headed by League director Jean Morse-Chevrier, is a founding member of the coalition, which has conducted numerous seminars, marches and press conferences to raise awareness of the implementation of the course.
Objections centre around the introduction at a young age of material that may contradict parents’ religious teachings, the lack of choice, and the denial of parental rights, explains Mrs. Morse-Chevrier. “It is the state deciding what religious content will be learned, and at what ages, which totally usurps the parents’ authority and role.”
By refusing to allow exemptions or make the course optional, the state is essentially foisting one belief system on students and their families, said Mrs. Morse-Chevrier.
Comments League President Phil Horgan, “Freedom of religion is a fundamental right both in the federal and Quebec Charters of Rights and Freedoms. Church teaching and tradition is that parents are the first educators of their children. This right is also spelled out in Article 26 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. By insisting that this new course replace religious training in public schools, and not even allowing exemptions or other accommodations, the Ministry of Education is denying an essential aspect of religious freedom and parental rights in its public schools.”
According to a Leger Marketing poll in October, 2008, 72 per cent of parents believe parents should have a choice between denominational religious education, and the ethics and culture course. In the 25 to 34 age bracket, 80 per cent said they support giving parents the choice. In the last school year (2007-2008), 73 per cent of children in Quebec primary schools and 57 per cent in high schools took Catholic religious education.
The course has been imposed on all schools, including private denominational ones. The only difference is that the private religious schools may also teach religious education of their choice in addition to the course in Ethics and Religious Culture. English-language Loyola High School in Montreal has begun a court challenge to be exempt from the required course.
Catholic Civil Rights League (www.ccrl.ca) assists in creating conditions within which Catholic teachings can be better understood, cooperates with other organizations in defending civil rights in Canada, and opposes defamation and discrimination against Catholics on the basis of their beliefs. CCRL was founded in 1985 as an independent lay organization and has chapters across Canada. The Catholic Civil Rights League is a Canadian non-profit organization entirely supported by the generosity of its members.
For further information: Joanne McGarry, Executive Director, 416-466-8244; firstname.lastname@example.org