Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
September 7, 2009
Quebec parents lose religious freedom case
Superior court says children cannot opt out of ethics and religious course
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS
DRUMMONDVILLE, QUEBEC - A Quebec Superior Court judge has ruled against Drummondville parents who want to opt their children out of the province's mandatory ethics and religious culture course.
The parents had sued their local school board, arguing the course violated parental rights and religious freedom. But the Aug. 31 court decision rejected those claims.
The decision relied heavily on the testimony of expert witness Father Gilles Routhier, a theologian at Laval University in Quebec City.
In an interview Sept. 1, Routhier said his testimony relied heavily on the Second Vatican Council's Decree on Religious Freedom. He told the court the course did not violate religious freedom because it does not pressure students to accept beliefs they do not share.
However, the Coalition for Freedom in Education (CLÉ), a group representing citizens across the province, objected to the state acting as an interpreter of religious beliefs.
"To see a judgment that is so precisely based on Catholic dogma is a surprise to us," said Coalition for Freedom in Education (CLÉ) spokesperson Richard Décarie in an interview Sept. 1.
The courts are qualified to judge whether beliefs are sincerely held, but not to referee among various interpretations of religious belief, Décarie said.
CLÉ also represents evangelical parents who pulled their children out of the religious culture course in Granby, Quebec.
CLÉ leads a growing movement of religious parents from other faiths, including Muslims and Jews, who oppose the program. A May Léger Marketing poll showed 73 per cent of Quebecers think parents, not government, should decide the moral and religious training students receive in school.
"It's not a question of interpreting one religion against another, it's a question of rights," Décarie said.
He said CLÉ would assist the parents if they continue the fight up to the Supreme Court.
The Drummondville parents are conferring with their lawyers on whether to appeal.
"The parents' modest means, when compared to those of the state, financed by our very own taxes, will not prevent us from appealing against this decision, if need be," said CLÉ president Marie-Josée Croteau in a statement.
Décarie expressed disappointment the Assembly of Quebec Catholic Bishops has not sided with the parents.
Instead, the bishops indicated they would withhold judgment for three years from the course's introduction in 2008. Then they would assess not only concerns about the content, but also on how the program has been implemented.
The Quebec bishops, however, are divided. Cardinal Marc Ouellet is among those who have spoken against the compulsory course.
Routhier acknowledged there is debate about whether the course content is relativistic.
Teaching children about other faiths is good, he said. For Muslims, for example, this is the first time they might hear what Christians believe.
He found the course material did not make judgments about the various faiths. "There is no brainwashing in the classrooms."
CLÉ objects to the way the course puts all religions on an equal footing, arguing it could lead children to reject their parents' faith.
Among other objections listed on the group's website (www.coalition-CLÉ.org) are that the course exposes children to prayers and rites and religious texts of other religions and demands that children discuss their own convictions. This is a violation of privacy, the group says.