20 May 2011

Canadian Supreme Court hears case pitting religious freedom of parents against religious freedom of their children

Global News  -   Canada     May 17, 2011

Supreme Court to hear case of Quebec. couple opposing school course

Brenda Branswell, Postmedia News

MONTREAL — The Supreme Court of Canada on Wednesday will hear a case involving a Quebec couple who oppose the province's mandatory ethics and religious culture school course.

The couple maintains the province's refusal to exempt their two children violates their freedom as parents and their religious beliefs. They are among some 2,000 parents who want to be exempted from the course, which seeks to sensitize children to the cultural aspects of Christianity, Judaism and aboriginal spiritualities and other major faiths.

The Drummondville couple, whose children cannot be identified because of a publication ban, went to court after the Commission scolaire des Chenes refused to exempt their two children from the course.

Drummondville is about 100 kilometres northeast of Montreal.

In their factum, the parents' lawyers asked: "Can the state impose, without the possibility of an exemption, a program of study about religion and ethics on parents who view it as infringing on their religious beliefs and their freedom of conscience? Such is the stake in this case."

The parents, who are Catholic, maintain the state cannot do that, the lawyers added.

The course has two main goals: the recognition of others and the pursuit of the common good. Students learn about key aspects of Catholic and Protestant Christian traditions in Quebec culture. They're also taught about the contributions of Judaism, aboriginal spirituality and other religious traditions.

Before the course was introduced, the Quebec government said it was designed to be inclusive and would respect the freedom of conscience and religion of each student.

The case summary on the Supreme Court's website notes that Quebec's Education Department had publicly announced there would no exemptions to the course.

Sylvain Lamontagne, who is president of a coalition that opposes the obligatory nature of the course, plans to observe the hearing. The Coalition pour la Liberte en Education is helping to pay the legal costs for the latest chapter in the Drummondville couple's battle against the course.

Ever since the compulsory ethics and religious culture course was introduced in Quebec schools in 2008, Lamontagne's daughters have boycotted it.

His younger daughter doesn't have the course in her schedule this year. But for Lamontagne's daughter who is in Grade 11, it means alerting her school that she'll be absent every time she has the class.

She also has to be off school property when the class is held, Lamontagne said.

"That's why we're going to the Supreme Court — to get back the exemption right," said Lamontagne, of Valcourt, Que., about 100 kilometres east of Montreal.

In 2009, a Quebec Superior Court judge rejected the Drummondville parents' request for an exemption for their children, ruling their right to freedom of religion was not being violated.

Last year, the Quebec Court of Appeal rejected their bid to appeal the decision.

The ruling noted that neither of the children was obligated to take the course at that point.

There are eight interveners in the case, including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

This article was found at:


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  1. Supreme Court rules Quebec infringed on Loyola High Schools religious freedom

    Montreal school wanted to opt out of Quebec's ethics and religious culture course

    The Canadian Press March 19, 2015

    The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that Quebec infringed on the religious freedom of a Catholic high school in Montreal by requiring it to teach the province's Ethics and Religious Culture program.

    But the high court was divided by a 4-3 margin on how to resolve the clash between religious freedom and the need to follow the secular law of the province.

    A vocal minority, led by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, said they didn't think the majority struck the right balance between protecting freedom of religion and the need to follow the law.

    In the narrowest legal sense, the ruling grants the appeal by Jesuit-run Loyola High School, which wants to be allowed to use its own course and teach the province's Ethics and Religious Culture program from a Catholic perspective.

    The school can now reapply to Quebec's Education Ministry for an exemption to teach the program and that decision must be guided by Thursday's ruling.

    "The Ethics and Religious Culture program was conceived as a way to teach students to recognize the value of others and the pursuit of the common good," former Loyola principal Paul Donovan told reporters after the judgment was handed down.

    "These are laudable goals that we share and wish to inculcate in our students. However, we do not believe that religious values in the context of our school need to be suppressed to accomplish this."

    Quebec Education Minister François Blais said he won't comment until he has read the ruling.

    The decision comes amid the backdrop of political, cultural and religious acrimony that has arisen in Ottawa around the issues raised by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's position that women taking the oath of citizenship should not be allowed to wear a face-covering niqab.

    The high court ruled on the issue in 2012 in a similar case in Drummondville, Que., involving a public school.

    In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that teaching students about world religions did not infringe the rights of Catholic parents who wanted to raise their children in their faith.

    continued below

  2. Secular perspective challenged

    Today's case revolves around Quebec's law that requires schools to teach religions from a secular, cultural and morally neutral perspective in private schools.

    The ministry initially turned down Loyola's request for an exemption, but at trial, a judge in the Superior Court of Quebec ruled in favour of the school and granted it.

    The Quebec Court of Appeal reversed that decision, saying that even if there was, the effect was trivial because the ethics course was one among many.

    That ruling was overturned by the Supreme Court Thursday.

    Schools can apply for an exemption that allows an alternative course to be taught as long as the minister of education approves it. Schools are only allowed to teach an alternative course as long as teachers steer clear of injecting their own religious beliefs.

    "To ask a religious school's teachers to discuss other religions and their ethical beliefs as objectively as possible does not seriously harm the values underlying religious freedom," Justice Rosalie Abella wrote for the majority.

    "But preventing a school like Loyola from teaching and discussing Catholicism in any part of the program from its own perspective does little to further those objectives while at the same time seriously interfering with the values underlying religious freedom."

    Loyola's exemption, the court held, "cannot be withheld on the basis that Loyola must teach Catholicism and Catholic ethics from a neutral perspective."

    Quebec Attorney General Benoît Boucher said all non-secular schools can teach their religion from a religious point of view, but said he does not think there will be many requests to do so.

    He said it was important for the province to continue teaching the course and the judgment shows that it should be mandatory for all Quebec students to gain a thorough understanding of diversity.

    "It was important for us that this program was maintained, and it has been. "

    Read the SCC judgment: Loyola High School v. Quebec at http://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/14703/index.do