jeudi 19 mai 2011

Quebec parents challenge ethics and religious culture course

From the Catholic register

OTTAWA - The Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments May 18 in a religious freedom case that pits parental rights against Quebec’s mandatory Ethics and Religious Culture program (ERC).

The case was brought by a Roman Catholic couple from Drummondville, Que., who requested their two children be exempted from the ERC. Their name is protected by a publication ban.

Mark Phillips one of the two lawyers representing the parents, said the government insists the ERC is “about teaching tolerance and diversity.” The parents have nothing against those objectives, he said, but they say the course is “a form of indoctrination,” seeking to cultivate worldview and a framework for ethics that is different from their Catholic faith.

Co-counsel Mark Pratt [recte: Guy Pratte] told the court “the state has no right to program people” in arguing for the prior rights of parents to educate their children and to choose how that education is delegated. Many of the questions from the bench concerned whether the onus should be on the parents to prove harm, or whether the state had the onus to prove its course was neutral on religion.

Benoît Boucher, arguing for the Attorney General of Quebec, told the court the ERC is neutral on religion. [This is debatable: is saying all religions are equal "neutral" for a believer in one of them? But note Boucher does not claim the course is neutral in the ethics part of the course.] It teaches “deep values are not to be judged; they are to be respected,” and it teaches respect for diversity and the beliefs of others.

“It’s not enough to raise an objection and expect the whole system to bow down on the basis of it,” he said.

The case has raised alarms across Canada among Catholic educators. The question at the heart of the case is parental rights, said John Stunt, executive director of the Canadian Catholic School Trustees’ Association, one of seven interveners in the case. If parental rights are impeded, “that impinges on the rights to have a Catholic education,” he said.

“This could have wide-ranging problems with what the government can do in the way of taking away religious freedom when it comes to our schools,” said Nancy Kirby, president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association.

Iain Benson stands with representatives of Catholic school trustees' associations outside the Supreme Court of Canada chamber

Iain Benson stands with representatives of Catholic school trustees' associations outside the Supreme Court of Canada chamber

“What is at stake is what Pope Benedict XVI calls the dictatorship of relativism,” said Jean-Yves Côté, who represented the Christian Coalition for Parental Rights in Education. “That’s what we are dealing with here in that case.

“For us Catholics, tolerance is about accepting all persons, but not about accepting all ideas. That would go directly against our faith. That distinction is not understood by the Attorney General.”

“Is there a right to dissent?” Iain Benson, counsel for the Canadian Catholic Trustees Association and the Canadian Council of Christian Charities, asked the court. He described parents as a “check on state power” and warned that if the decision “goes the wrong way” many more parents would see multiculturalism as a fearful concept and withdraw their children from the public schools, creating the isolated cultural “silos” the course is meant to prevent.

“This course requires the student to question his own beliefs constantly in the context of a group dynamic,” said Jean Morse-Chevrier, president of the Association of Catholic Parents in Quebec and Quebec director of the Catholic Civil Rights League. “The whole course is done in dialogue in groups where you have to question the other person’s arguments and have to question what they got from their parents, what they got from their religion.”

The court has reserved decision on the case which may take several months to decide.

Soutenons les familles dans leurs combats juridiques (reçu fiscal pour tout don supérieur à 50 $)

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