mardi 25 mars 2014

Loyola — Who owns our kids ?

In her 1991 lecture, “Who owns our kids?”, Canada’s Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin warned, “Despite the fact that we now have a constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion, the Canadian record offers no room for complacency. Our history underscores the ease with which the guarantee can be undermined in well-meaning efforts motivated by conflicting social goals.”

Her words ring true as much today as 23 years ago. On Monday, the Supreme Court of Canada will be asked to answer the very question McLachlin raised. The case before it exemplifies what she warned about: undermining religious freedom through social reconstruction by possibly well-meaning, though severely misguided, government bureaucracies.

The case is known as “the Loyola case.” Loyola is an independent “confessional Christian” Jesuit boys’ school in Montreal. In 2005, the Québec Ministry of Education introduced a new curriculum called Ethics and Religious Culture. In 2008, ERC became mandatory for all grades (except grade 9) in all public, private and even home schools.

The Québec ministry not only told all schools exactly what to teach (various types of religious clothing, different religious foods, etc.); the bureaucrats went much further. They insisted there is only one way to teach the program. It must be taught from a secular, “neutral” perspective. The confessional approach of the Jesuits was emphatically not allowed.

The stated purpose of ERC is to promote greater tolerance in Québec. In fact, the government of Québec has said that insisting on a secular approach was necessary because a confessional approach to a subject is not equivalent to a secular approach. In bureaucratic eyes, a confessional approach is inferior to a secular approach. The Court of Appeal affirmed this, declaring that because Loyola’s own World Religions course is confessionally Catholic, it could not be considered equivalent to the ERC program, which was designed to be religiously “neutral.”

Let’s not kid ourselves. Québec has its own religion: a secular humanism with a nationalist flare. Like all religions it also has commandments. Its first: thou shalt have no other gods before it. As a result, Québec demands other faiths be trivialized, sanitized, or eradicated.

We must understand the motivation of the state is not, and cannot be, neutral. It will always be religious. The question is not whether it will be religious or neutral, but which religion it will espouse.

So when the Court of Appeal found the ERC course was religiously “neutral”, and thus reasonable in its coercive approach, it chose to overrule the trial judge. He had ruled, based on extensive expert evidence, that “the obligation imposed on Loyola to teach the ERC course in a secular manner is totalitarian in nature.”

But the Court of Appeal favoured the ambitions of the Québec government, which stated that its program was better suited for promoting tolerance. Apparently, that tolerance goes only so far. Tolerance of the Roman Catholic or Christian world view seems … intolerable.

The state is becoming much more aggressive in assuming the role of parents. In B.C., Manitoba and Ontario, there are strong governmental pushes to usurp parental rights to educate and raise their own children. This struggle is by no means limited to la belle province.

Throughout Canada, education laws and policies are implemented yet parents aren’t consulted. They aren’t even mentioned in the laws. Parents who take time to make presentations to legislative committees are ignored. Perhaps, in the eyes of the state, parents just get in the way of progress, or worse, are just part of the problem.

It isn’t so. The state’s role in education is to ensure a certain quality of education is achieved. It ought to be interested in the ends (literacy, numeracy, civic competency, etc.), not the means parents choose. A comprehensive sociological study by Cardus, a Canadian think tank, found that independent religious schools are statistically a better means to the end: they produce graduates who are more invested in the common good, donating more, volunteering more and more civically engaged. Based on the social-scientific evidence, independent religious education contributes to and serves the common good. Québec’s pedagogical approach severely undercuts the very good work of independent religious education.

Continuing to recognize the legitimacy and integrity of confessional schools, as alternatives to state-run schools, is entirely appropriate — indeed necessary — within our pluralistic society. These schools have a right to exist. But their existence is undermined if they are then not permitted to teach from a confessional perspective in all courses.

No wonder so many parents are asking, “Who owns our kids?” Let’s pray the Supreme Court properly rebukes those state actors who think they do.

André Schutten, Hons. B. A., LL.B., LL.M., is a lawyer with the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) Canada. ARPA built a coalition of 324 independent Christian schools from across the country, representing 70,000 students, 6,600 teachers and a broader supporting community of well over 250,000 Canadians. Together they are interveners at the Supreme Court of Canada in the Loyola case. Read the submission to the court at

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