4 Jan 2011

Some Canadian provinces discriminate against non-Catholics and unbelievers by publicly funding Catholic schools

Rabble.ca - Canada October 7, 2010

A publicly-funded Catholic school system is unjust


It's time to bid adieu to the publicly-funded Catholic school system.

Year after year, secularists make a valiant effort to raise this point with provincial governments, and provinces, especially in Catholic-rich Ontario (currently helmed by a Roman Catholic Premier who's married to a Catholic school teacher), want nothing to do with what they perceive as a political and constitutional nightmare.

In Ontario -- where the Catholic school system was controversially extended by former Premier Bill Davis to cover grades 11 to 13 -- religious school campaign promises are hazardous to one's political ambitions.

In the 2007 Ontario general election, Conservative leader John Tory pondered public funding for religious schools funded on the taxpayer's dime.

There was a hue and a cry and John Tory kissed his aspiration to be Premier goodbye.

As much as I disagree with the public funding of faith-based schools, Tory had a point. Either we fund none or we fund all. Premier McGuinty stammered and dodged his way through a CBC interview that asked him why if he was opposed to Tory's plan, did he continue to support the Catholic system? Only the Ontario Greens had the courage to openly declare its support for a single, secular, public system.

I understand the historical and constitutional underpinnings of why we have two separate school systems, but to put it bluntly, those days are over. Canada is no longer a binary nation of Catholic and Protestant, of English and French. We are many faiths and no faiths and myriad cultures.

The United Nations' human rights committee declared that public money for Catholic schools but not for other religious schools is discriminatory. The UN was right.

And that the constitution is sacred and can't be meddled with is poppycock. Of the thirteen provinces and territories, only seven allow publicly funded faith-based schools. A province can hold a referendum, as Newfoundland and Labrador did in 1997, and upon a successful vote and a constitutional amendment, the deal is done. Newfoundland witnessed upheaval and protests, but it's over and the world didn't end and the moon didn't crash into the Earth and they have a single, publicly-funded system.

The third largest "belief" in Canada is no belief (and incidentally, if you want to know about the world's religions, ask an atheist or agnostic. This is a broad category and covers free-thinkers and agnostics and atheists and deists and so on. These Canadians, which represent the fastest-growing group, are united in their devotion to secularism. And I should note that there are certainly religious Canadians who also support secularism -- one of the more progressive movements being the United Church.

So why do we continue with this divisive system? Moreover, when a majority of Canadians strongly disagree with women wearing a niqab -- a vast majority support the Quebec government's ban on wearing niqabs when accessing public services -- where is the ire toward public funding of a separate Catholic school system, especially when many teachings and doctrines of the Catholic Church run contrary to a progressive and civilized society.

The Catholic Church, through its leadership, marginalizes and discriminates against women (females may not be ordained as priests and in May 2010 a number of Catholic students were bused into Ottawa for an anti-choice rally on Parliament Hill, it's openly bigoted toward homosexuality, its lies about condoms have helped foster an AIDS epidemic particularly in poorer parts of the world, and its protection of priests who have raped and sexually abused children is beyond contemptible.

Let me conclude with full disclosure and a defence. First full disclosure: I am an atheist, but my absence of belief in gods does not preclude me from arguing against an unfair and anachronistic system. The defence: we must put politics aside (with 34% of Ontarians claiming to be Catholic, politicians from the three major parties won't touch this issue) and ask ourselves whether the continued public support for Catholic schools is just and if those public schools are an ideal expression of our society.

Eric Mang served as a political aide in the Harris government in Ontario and the Campbell government in British Columbia. His politics have since shifted left. You can read more at www.ericmang.com

This article was found at:



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  1. Politicians, not Catholics, deserve Ontario’s wrath for funding religious schools

    by ADAM RADWANSKI Globe and Mail May 29, 2012

    They are stubborn in defence of views that increasingly look anachronistic. Somehow, they have convinced themselves that the “diversity” of their province hinges on their ability to continue implicitly or directly telling some of the most vulnerable kids in the high-school system that there’s something wrong with them.

    So, yes, it's easy right now to gang up on Ontario's Catholic leaders. But in the protracted fight over “gay-straight alliances” that seems to have come to a head this week, they're not the ones who really deserve to be feeling the heat.

    That honour goes, instead, to the men and women running the province, who prefer to tell religious leaders how they should change their moral code rather than tell them they no longer have any business advancing that code through publicly funded schools.

    To most of the rest of the Western world, it would come as little surprise that Catholics in Ontario – the ones in senior positions within the church, at least – are uncomfortable telling kids that it’s okay to be gay. The surprise, rather, would be that Ontario still has a publicly funded Catholic school system beyond any point at which it’s reasonably needed or defensible as a minority right.

    For that matter, we’re also rapidly passing the point at which that system’s Catholicism has any real meaning. To many of us, the church’s willingness to allow its identity to be heavily shaped by its positions on hot-button social issues – gay rights and abortion first among them – might seem peculiar. But to tell Catholics they can have their own schools but not their own beliefs surely defeats whatever purpose these schools are still supposed to serve.

    That leaves – should leave – two choices.

    One would be to let Catholics run their publicly funded schools according to their value system. Never mind that many of the students aren’t really there for a religious education, since there aren’t actually enough religious Catholics to sustain a parallel system in many parts of the province. This is our system, and we’re sticking with it.

    The other would be for government finally to accept that, sometimes, progress involves a few headaches, and start treating Catholics the same as everyone else – free to practice their faith as they see fit, including with religious schools, but not on the public dime.

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  2. continued from previous comment:

    Privately, many of the people in and around government believe that’s the right way to go, and some take it as a given that it will eventually happen. But somehow, it remains a third rail that nobody in a position of power is willing to touch.

    Not Dalton McGuinty, whose own Catholic upbringing, and subsequent emergence as a social liberal and self-styling as the “education Premier” would make him uniquely well-suited to tackle the issue. Not either of the opposition leaders, Tim Hudak or Andrea Horwath. (The lone exception among party chiefs is Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner, but it would be a stretch to say he’s in a position of power.) And not Don Drummond, the economist who earlier this year delivered a report with some 360 recommendations to make government more efficient, yet somehow managed to overlook the waste from doubling up on school administration across the province.

    Now that the GSAs have once again brought attention to how outdated the system is, our leaders have another opportunity to get this right. At a minimum, they should level with Catholic leaders, by urging them to forego public funding if they want to receive the same treatment – and have the same freedom – as every other religion or denomination.

    Still, it seems easier to gloss over the obvious.

    On Monday, Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod accused Mr. McGuinty’s government of having “provoked the Catholic education system,” and of laying the groundwork for defunding it, by insisting that schools recognize GSAs. That she thought this would be a bad thing was slightly odd, given that Ms. MacLeod is a young MPP who has intermittently championed the kinds of anti-bullying measures that so trouble separate schools, but she needn’t worry. The government has thus far shown more inclination to try to make Catholicism palatable to the masses than tell Catholics to practice it on their own time.


  3. Time to Revoke Public Funds to Catholic Schools: National Secular Organization

    Centre for Inquiry Media Advisory May 30, 2012

    TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - May 30, 2012) - The hard-line response by Cardinal Thomas Collins to refuse GSAs signals an escalation in a war between the Catholic School System and the Ontario government that leaves vulnerable students as its casualties.

    "The question as to whether catholic schools should be required to support GSAs has been satisfactorily answered," said Justin Trottier, National Communications Director of the Centre for Inquiry (CFI). "The real question now is whether Ontario should be required to continue to support catholic schools."

    "The elephant in the room - public funding of Catholic schools - has become so destructive to fundamental rights and equality it's impossible to ignore," said Trottier.

    The Catholic School Boards' bully pulpit has long been a source of friction with human rights. "Whether banning books by atheists, suspending students advocating pro-choice or refusing admission to non-Catholics, the status quo can no longer be maintained," said CFI Chairperson Kevin Smith.

    In now attempting to censor the very identity of gay students the system has reached its breaking point.

    "This kind of conflict will crop up again and again so long as the Catholic School System is funded by all taxpayers but accountable elsewhere, to the Assembly of Catholic Bishops and Cardinal Collins," said Trottier.

    CFI urges the revocation of public funding to the Roman Catholic School system. This is not an attack on Catholics. The Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association supports GSAs and Catholic schools can do as they please. They simply cannot push their moral code at the expense of every Ontario taxpayer.