28 May 2011

Opponents of Quebec's religious education coarse fear that when religions are held up to rational scrutiny all are irrational

National Post  -  Canada  May 26, 2011

Who picks which religions are sacred?

by John Moore  | Commentary

This newspaper roundly condemned the province of Quebec’s religious studies curriculum in an editorial published May 24, “Moral relativism in the classroom.” [see below]  The program, known as Ethics and Religious Culture, dares teach children that all religions are worthy of respect. The editors wrote: “Normative pluralism is moral relativism, the notion that there is no single truth and that all religions are of equal merit and equal worthiness of admiration.”

By scoffing at the idea that all faiths are equal, the editorial board leaves unanswered the question of which are better or more truthful than others (it might also be asked why an editorial board that favours small government would want the state to make such a decision, but I digress). By what measure shall we establish the relative merits of religions? Shall it be by seniority? Sheer numbers? Heaven forbid that we anoint one or the other based on reason or evidence.

It makes perfect sense to many that Christianity outranks, say, Scientology, by virtue of the fact that one has been around for 2,000 years while the other was cooked up a mere half-century ago. But by this measure do we throw Mormonism into question for having existed only slightly longer than L. Ron Hubbard’s mischievous invention? With Mormons running for president of the United States, am I at risk of a Human Rights Tribunal complaint if I point out that the faith has something in common with Scientology in that both were founded by men who might easily be described as self-aggrandizing cranks?

And if we are to defer to faiths on the basis of longevity, then surely the National Post should accord more respect to druids and pantheists.

If we rank faiths by sheer numbers is Christianity 20% more important or truthful than Islam? Is Rastafarianism a lark by virtue of the fact that it has a mere 500,000 adherents? Never mind that all of the major faiths are riven with schisms that further reduce their collective numbers. The Russian Orthodox Church was in spasms for years over how many fingers one should use to cross oneself. Sunni and Shia Muslims are similarly obsessed with prayerful gestures.

Nor can one religion be compared to another on the basis of theological rigour. Just because two men with PhDs can debate the immaculate conception of Mary doesn’t make the event more believable than the notion that Jesus appeared to Sun Myung Moon in 1935.

The Post’s editors complain that religious parents “do not want their children to learn that Christianity and pagan Animism and tinfoil hat science fiction are equally true.” And why not? Are their faiths so weak that they fear without the silo and blinkers of Sunday school or the temple that their children will be lured away from such self-evidently superior creeds? The truly faithful need not fear exposure to the faith of others.

The real problem is that if one or several religions are deemed sacred while the others are dismissed as cults, obsessive compulsive disorders and curiosities, then the door is thrown open to the incoherence of all faiths. Why should the origin tale of the Old Testament be regarded as any more significant than the notion that the world was created on the back of a turtle? The real fear of the faithful is that when religions are held up to rational scrutiny each is as irrational as the next. Atheists have everything to gain from the idea that there is some normative means of comparing one faith to another.

Religious and moral instruction is the role of parents. They are free to teach their children than the world is 10,000 years old or that if they whirl in circles they will achieve ecstasy. In school, children will learn that their classmates hold many other things sacred and that stubborn righteousness does not mean that one tenet automatically bests another.

John Moore is host of Moore in the Morning on NewsTalk 1010 AM Toronto. He was raised on the Bible and thinks it is an excellent book.

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National Post  -  Canada  May 24, 2011

Moral relativism in the classroom


Since September of 2008 all Quebec students, from primary school entry to high school graduation, in public and private schools, have been obliged to take a course called, in English, Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC). And teachers, regardless of their religious beliefs (or lack thereof), must teach it.

According to its inventors, the ERC curricula are designed to sensitize students to the tenets of Quebec's rich array of religious beliefs -the major religions, plus aboriginal myths and even Wiccan beliefs -in order to "facilitate the spiritual development of students so as to promote self-fulfillment." No exemptions from the program are permitted, not even if the children are home-schooled.

A Drummondville, Que. couple (who cannot be named), representing 2,000 Quebec parents who wish to have their children exempted from the ERC program, have gone to the Supreme Court to argue that their rights as parents and to their religious beliefs have been violated by Quebec. In their factum, the lawyers pose the question: "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 ERC curriculum was adopted without public consultation. Its mission is to instill "normative pluralism" in students. In simpler terms, normative pluralism is moral relativism, the notion that there is no single truth, and that all religions are of equal merit and equal worthiness of admiration. As Fernand Ouellet, an ERC founder noted, students "must learn to shake up a too solid identity"; they must experience "divergence and dissonance." Encouraging critical thinking is not part of the ERC program.

Even if one conceded that the study of all religions is a good thing, the ERC program is highly disingenuous in that only positive elements of every religion are examined. Two values dominate the courses: "vivre ensemble" (live together) and arriving at the "bien commun" (common good). Social harmony is to be achieved by constant dialogue and "recognition" of other cultures, which are to be accomplished, in the words of ECR mandarin Georges Leroux, by inculcating in children "ab-solute respect for every religious position."

Thus, children are taught, for example, that witches "are women like any other in daily life," and, "Technologically [the Raelians] are 25,000 years in advance of us." And considering that only 700 of Quebec's aboriginals identify themselves with aboriginal spirituality (the vast majority of ethnic aboriginals are Christian), aboriginal myths are accorded absurdly disproportionate reverence.

This is precisely what religious parents do not want their children exposed to in their tender years. They do not want their children to learn that Christianity and pagan Animism and tinfoilhat science fiction are equally true and equally conducive to a life of morality and spiritual vigour. Aside from a violation of parents' rights to morally instruct their children, such a critically vacuous prescription is an insult to the intelligence, equally offensive to the religious and atheists alike.

Ethnic Studies Phd candidate Joelle Quérin produced a study in 2009 for the Institut de Recherche sur le Québec. After a deep analysis of the course's stated objectives, content, teachers' role and suggested classroom activities. Quérin stated: "I wanted to verify if the course gives knowledge to children or if it indoctrinates them. I observed that it was the second alternative that prevailed."

Quérin cites, for example, an instance where students were invited to redesign the Quebec flag, replacing the cross with a more "inclusive" symbol, and another student activity in which religions invented by students are accorded the same deference as real ones. The vaunted "dialogue" of the program consists only of politically correct scripts that must be followed without divergence. If a student poses a question that does not conform to the "recognition" mantra that all beliefs are equal and good, the teacher must intervene to stop the discussion.

Quérin concludes: "After having followed the ERC course for ten years, the students won't have a great knowledge of religions, but one thing is sure: no [cultural] accommodation will seem unreasonable to them."

The ERC course, disguised as diversity positivism, will serve to undermine Quebec children's natural pride in their own patrimony. It undermines the rights of parents to raise their children in accordance with their own beliefs. And worst of all, it will serve to suppress students' ability to think critically about different religions and cultures without guilt. A 2008 poll found that 76% of Quebecers prefer a choice in religious education. We hope that the Supreme Court agrees with them.

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  1. Nunavut official: DEAs may allow giveaways of religious material

    NUNATSIAQ NEWS November 18, 2011

    District education authorities may, under the Education Act, allow the distribution of religious materials outside the education program, Kathy Okpik, Nunavut’s deputy minister of education, said in a written statement released after 5:00 p.m. Nov. 18.

    But Nunavut DEAs may not show favoritism to one religious group over another, she said.

    “If a District Education Authority allows one religious group into the schools to distribute materials, it must allow all religious groups the same access,” Okpik said in her statement.

    The GN statement comes just two days after Nunatsiaq News reported the Arviat DEA gave Gideons International of Canada permission to distribute Bibles to elementary, middle and high school children from Grade 5 to Grade 12 in Arviat Nov. 21 and Nov. 22.

    “With Arviat being the first District Education Authority in Nunavut, this will allow us to have discussions in other communities because of this open door,” the Gideons group said Nov. 9 in a press release.

    In addition to Bible donations at Arviat’s three schools, the Gideons will also give Bibles away at hotels, the Arviat health centre and the RCMP station.

    In her statement, Okpik said the GN and all other public agencies in the territory must comply with the Nunavut Human Rights Act and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

    And she said parents, students and education department staff have the right to inform the DEA that they do not want to receive religious material, or participate in religious programs.

    “No one, including teachers and students can be forced to participate in religious programs or receive religious materials if they object on personal, moral or religious grounds,” Okpik said.


  2. Quebec students must take ethics-religion course

    Supreme Court dismisses parents' appeal against mandatory attendance

    CBC News February 17, 2012

    Canada's top court on Friday rejected an appeal from parents in Quebec who sought the right to keep their children out of an ethics and religious culture program taught in the province's schools.

    The program, which was introduced in 2008 to elementary and high schools by the provincial Education Ministry, replaced religion classes with a curriculum covering all major faiths found in Quebec culture, including Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and aboriginal beliefs.

    "Exposing children to a comprehensive presentation of various religions without forcing the children to join them does not constitute an indoctrination of students that would infringe the freedom of religion of L and J [the appellants]," Madam Justice Marie Deschamps wrote in the main ruling.

    "Furthermore, the early exposure of children to realities that differ from those in their immediate family environment is a fact of life in society. The suggestion that exposing children to a variety of religious facts in itself infringes their religious freedom or that of their parents amounts to a rejection of the multicultural reality of Canadian society and ignores the Quebec government’s obligations with regard to public education."

    The top court said that the appellants had not proven that the ethics and religion course infringed their freedom of religion, nor that the refusal of the school board to exempt their children had violated their constitutional rights.

    In 2009, Quebec's Superior Court rejected a request from two Drummondville parents who wanted to keep their children out of the program.

    After their appeal was denied in Quebec in 2010, the parents took it to the Supreme Court, which heard their case in May 2011.

    Incompatible beliefs

    When the program became mandatory in Quebec schools in May 2008, the appellants, who cannot be named under a court-ordered publication ban, had one child in elementary school and another in secondary school.

    The parents wrote to the two schools to request that their children be exempt from the courses.

    They claimed their children would suffer serious harm from contact with a series of beliefs that were mostly incompatible with those of the family.

    The school board refused to grant the exemption, responding as other boards had to similar requests. The Quebec minister of education publicly stated that there would be no exemptions.

    When Quebec first brought in the ethics and religion course, some Catholic parents fought back, saying it interfered with their ability to pass their faith on to their children. They also argued that it infringed on their freedom of conscience and religion under the Charter of rights and Freedoms.

    They wanted to pull their children out of the classes and exempt them from taking other religion classes in the future. Almost 2,000 other parents also requested exemptions from the education ministry but were denied.

    In effect, the Supreme Court now has sided with the provincial government and the earlier ruling by the Quebec Court of Appeal.


  3. Top court clears religion course

    By Sue Montgomery, Montreal Gazette February 17, 2012

    A controversial ethics and religious course taught in Quebec schools is in line with the changing face of Canada and in no way violates a person’s right to freedom of religion, the country’s highest court ruled Friday.

    It was a blow to the Catholic parents who had fought all the way to the Supreme Court to win an exemption from the course for their children because they felt that exposing them to a variety of religions would only confuse them.

    But the nine judges disagreed, saying that exposing children to beliefs and values that differ from their own is a fact of life in our diverse society.

    “The suggestion that exposing children to a variety of religious facts in itself infringes their religious freedom or that of their parents amounts to a rejection of the multicultural reality of Canadian society and ignores the Quebec government’s obligations with regard to public education,” the ruling says.

    “Given the diversity of present-day Quebec, the state can no longer promote a vision of society in public schools that is based on historically dominant religions.”

    The Drummondville parents, who can’t be named to protect the identity of their children, failed to prove that the course interfered with their ability to pass their Catholic faith onto their children, the ruling says.

    “(The judges) are saying ‘you can’t just say you feel like your rights have been violated; there has to be a standard that has to be met,’ ” said Daniel Weinstock, a philosophy professor at the Université de Montréal who sat on the commission that recommended such a course be created.

    “That’s a fairly strong statement for the court to say, ‘You didn’t even get past the first rung.’ ”

    The decision could affect the outcome of a court battle between Loyola High School, in Notre Dame de Grâce, and the Quebec government.

    The province refused to grant the 160-year-old Catholic boys’ school an exemption, and even turned down an offer of an equivalent course, saying religion and ethics can’t be taught from a Catholic perspective.

    In June 2010, Quebec Superior Court sided with the school – a decision the government will appeal before the Quebec Court of Appeal on May 7.

    In his ruling, Superior Court Justice Gerard Dugré compared the attempt of the education minister to impose a secular emphasis on Loyola High School’s teaching of the course to the intolerance of the Spanish Inquisition.

    “The obligation imposed on Loyola to teach the ethics and religious culture course in a lay fashion assumes a totalitarian character essentially equivalent to Galileo’s being ordered by the Inquisition to deny the Copernican universe,” the judge wrote in his 63-page decision.

    Benoît Boucher, the lawyer representing the government, wouldn’t comment on how the Supreme Court decision might affect their appeal.

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  4. continued from previous comment:

    Constitutional lawyer Julius Grey said it would likely have a positive impact for the government’s case.

    “It would be bizarre if the school could say we’re exempt because of our religious orientation when the parents can’t be exempt because of their religious orientation,” he said.

    The course, known as Ethics and Religious Culture, is the result of years of the province moving toward secular education. It covers many religions, but from a cultural perspective.

    ERC was gradually implemented in schools before becoming mandatory at the start of the 2008-09 school year. The Drummondville parents requested an exemption before the school year began.

    Two of the nine Supreme Court justices noted in Friday’s ruling that while the teaching methods and content of the course remain “sketchy,” they felt the parents hadn’t made their case.

    Justices Louis LeBel and Morris Fish went further than their colleagues, saying future rights violations as a result of the course could be possible but don’t “paint a yellow brick road” to show future plaintiffs what they would have to show to prove that, Weinstock said.

    “This may be a ray of light opened up (to future plaintiffs),” he said. “As far as the other judges are concerned, the door is shut.”


  5. Free Gideon Bible handouts face another public school ban despite pressure

    Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press March 21, 2012

    An expected ban on the free distribution of Gideon Bibles at public schools in a southern Ontario school district has angered those who see the decision as an atheist attack on religious values and children.

    Despite vocal support in favour of continuing the decades-old practice, the Bluewater District School Board is set to end the free handouts after its policy committee voted this week.

    “It is an atheist thing and they’re doing harm to the children,” Dorothy Adams, a former social worker in Hanover, Ont., said Wednesday.

    “What are we trying to do? Destroy our children?”

    As with many other schools, parents of Grade 5 students at the Bluewater board receive a permission slip for the school to give their children a Gideon Bible.

    After months of considering the issue, which has stirred passions and even human-rights challenges in Canada, the board’s policy committee voted 5-3 on Tuesday to ban distribution of all religious materials at its 53 schools.

    The committee, comprising most of the board’s 11 trustees, rejected a proposal that would have allowed any religious organization to hand out literature.

    Trustee Terry Bell, who supports a ban, said allowing religious materials is fraught territory.

    “There are some phrases in the Bible that discriminate against those people who are gay; some religions demean women,” Bell said. “That’s not something our mission and vision statement will endorse.”

    The board’s chairwoman Jan Johnstone, who proposed the ban motion, said board counsel had advised an end to the handouts because of the potential for legal challenges.

    In addition, she said, trying to manage handouts if the practice was opened up to any religion would prove a drain on already stretched resources.

    Gideons International, an evangelical Protestant association based in Nashville, Tenn., has been placing its Bibles — comprising a New Testament plus the books of Psalms and Proverbs from the Old Testament — in Canadian public schools since 1936.

    Several boards, including some of Ontario’s largest, have long discontinued the practice; others, such as the Iqaluit district, have done so more recently.

    One district in Nunavut did opt late last year to allow Gideon distribution for the first time, while the largest board in Prince Edward Island said in January the practice could continue despite a parental complaint.

    After Bluewater began a review in light of parent’s complaint, thousands signed a petition urging the board to allow the Gideon Bibles.

    Scores of people clutching Gideon Bibles jammed meetings, and some trustees said they had been flooded with emails, calls and letters from those upset by a possible ban.

    Kevin Larson, chairman of the board’s policy committee, said he was disappointed by the decision.

    “In my area, I don’t think there’s a single person asking me to discontinue the practice,” Larson said from Port Elgin, Ont.

    “I believe open to all is the way we should be going with the increasing diversity in the world.”

    Bluewater’s board is expected to adopt the committee’s ban recommendation when it meets April 17.

    In the interim, Adams said Gideon supporters would keep up their fight in an effort to stave off the ban.

    “We believe in the children and bringing up children to have a happy life,” Adams said.

    “If they had the Lord in their life, they wouldn’t be tempted by a lot of the things that are out there.”