jeudi 20 juin 2013

Private school balks at teaching province's Ethics and Religious Culture program

From the B.C. Catholic,

The Supreme Court of Canada will hear Loyola High School's appeal of a decision forcing the private school to teach the province's mandatory Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC) program.

"I'm delighted," said John Zucchi, one of the parents named in the lawsuit involving the right of the Montreal Jesuit-run high school to teach its own world and religious culture program from a Catholic perspective. "You never know if they are going to listen to these appeals or not."

"It signals there is something very important about this case," he said.

Loyola had sought to have the Quebec education minister recognize their ethics and world religions course as equivalent to the ERC, but she ruled the fact it was taught from a Catholic perspective undermined the neutral purpose of the program. A lower court overturned the education minister's ruling, but the Court of Appeal reinstated it.

"We're not fighting for a new right," said Zucchi, who teaches history at McGill University. "We're asking to have the rights we had before."

Zucchi said he expects their lawyers will pursue constitutional arguments.

"Can you coerce a person to go against his or her deepest-held religious beliefs in a classroom for a few hours a day, or a week or a year?" asked Zucchi?

The Supreme Court has never pronounced on the issue of whether a corporation can have religious rights, he said.

Zucchi said the view held by some liberals that secularism is the only viewpoint and should be the only voice in the public sphere is not new. That view is "only part of the pluralistic landscape," he said.

The Coalition for Freedom in Education (CLÉ), a parents' rights group, issued a statement saying it hopes the Supreme Court would agree with the trial judge's analysis and grant an exemption to Loyola to teach the world religions program from a Catholic perspective that has been offered since 1975.

The ERC "juxtaposes a series of beliefs, legends, myths, habits and customs in the name of tolerance and neutrality," CLÉ said. This approach may "make a caricature of religion" by stringing legends, myths and celebrations one after the other, it said.

Loyola has promoted a more complete understanding of other faiths and that does a better job of promoting tolerance than the ERC, CLÉ said.

Cardus Executive Vice President Ray Pennings says the Loyola case will be heard in the context of several other state incursions into parental rights in education and against the religious freedom of confessional schools, both public and private.

"We're in a bit of a beachhead moment," he said, citing Ontario's anti-bullying Bill 13; Manitoba's Bill 18; the case of Drummondville parents who wished to withdraw their children from the ERC; and the fight Trinity Western University is experiencing in trying to establish an accredited law school because of its requirement all faculty and students uphold a moral covenant respecting traditional marriage.

"It strikes me there is an agenda that would appear to be there of attacking the freedoms that have been historically enjoyed in this country for parents to make choices whether as part of their communal identity, a desire to have input into curriculum or to have options outside of a government system," he said.

Pennings questioned whether the state needs to have a monopoly to accomplish its ends.

Cardus conducted a study on the outcomes for those who are educated outside of the government-funded system entitled "A Rising Tide Raises All Boats" comparing them with those for the government-funded schools. The students educated outside the system had better outcomes, he said.

One has to question why education is something the state needs to control in a monopoly way, Penning said.

"Those seeking religious rights are the pluralists and the democrats in this discussion," he said.

There is a common interest in children being educated," he said. "For society to thrive and prosper, we need citizens that can participate in the polity of the country. We need children to grow up to become economic contributors."

"There is an appropriate role for the state," he said. "The state's interest is one of particular outcomes."

The data we collected show those outcomes are achieved better in the non-state- run settings, he said.

"Education based on a principle theistic worldview is producing results that are tolerant and respectful," said Penning. "When you teach children every child is made in the image of God regardless of differences that exist between them that provides a foundation for respect that is far greater than any policy program that it's good to be nice to each other."

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