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.
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