Canadian Supreme Court rejects exemption from Religious Education

 

Canadian Supreme Court rejects exemption from Religious Education

Author: 

George Conger

Canada’s Supreme Court has held that parents may not withdraw their children from state school religious education programmes for reasons of conscience or religious scruple.
On 17 Feb 2012 the court dismissed an appeal lodged by Roman Catholics who wished to opt out of Quebec’s mandatory Ethics and Religious Culture Program (ERCP).  The parents had petitioned the school board to exempt their children from mandatory attendance as the course taught doctrines and beliefs contrary to Roman Catholic teachings.
After the education department declined to comply the parents brought suit, asking the court to determine whether the mandatory state religion class infringed the constitutional protection of a right to free choice of religion.
Writing for the court, Justice Marie Deschamps stated that “although the sincerity of a person’s belief that a religious practice must be observed is relevant to whether the person’s right to freedom of religion is at issue, an infringement of this right cannot be established without objective proof of an interference with the observance of that practice.”
Created in 2008 as a replacement for the secular Moral Education, the Catholic Religious and Moral Instruction, and the Protestant Moral Education and Religious Education courses, the ERCP is described as a non-sectarian, non-judgmental instruction in morals.
The head of the ERCP, Denis Watters, stated after the court handed down its decision  the programme was designed to equip students “with knowledge that will help them decode the meanings of the various religious expressions around them.”
This neutral approach to religion, the courts found, did not infringe private religious practice or believe.  In her opinion Justice Deschamps stated that the “early exposure of children to realities that differ from those in their immediate family environment is a fact of life in society.”
Exposure to other faiths through aegis of state school curricula “does not in itself constitute an infringement” of religion, the judge said.