January 17, 2011

MONTREAL — Quebec's new policy concerning religious daycares imposes the state's ideological approach to religion, according to a Catholic parents' group.

The directive, released just before Christmas, also devastated the Salesian Sisters who run three Montreal daycares.

"I'm very disappointed with it," said Sister Ethel Rousselle, who manages the Centre de la petite enfance (CPE).

"With this new directive, we cannot even say a prayer; we cannot even mention the name of God," she said.

News reports that the province will no longer allow any form of religious instruction, prayer, singing or ritual in state-funded Catholic, Jewish, Muslim daycares only tell part of the story, said Jean Morse-Chevrier, who chairs the Association of the Catholic parents of Quebec (APCQ).

The directive also insists that Quebec children learn about "living together," she said.

The directive says the daycares must take into account the multi-ethnic character of Quebec and stimulate respect for differences using an inclusive approach, Morse-Chevrier said. It must inculcate "openness to diversity" in children.

It goes beyond saying there will be no religious instruction in daycares to "imposing another approach to religion."

"These children are under five," she stressed. The directive seems to be "trying to take control of the child's religious development."

"We say it is totalitarian to undermine the parents' choice of religion and impose a particular religious attitude," Morse-Chevrier said.

When Quebec parents had a choice as recently as 2008, 85 per cent chose a Christian moral education for their children.

The Salesian sisters have long catered to a diverse clientele that has included members of other religious faiths.

"We are not indoctrinating them. We accept them. They know they are in a Catholic daycare, run by sisters," she said.

Non-Catholics are respected and are not required to participate in activities geared to Catholics.

But when they pray, they pray together, she said. "Those people that are from other religions, they don't find it a problem," she said.

The ban on Catholic practices in daycares "is a great deprivation to the children," Morse-Chevrier said. Children who believe in Jesus love to say prayers or sing songs to Jesus.

Rousselle agreed children find the best part of the day the religious activities they share. "We will take away something important for them."