By Thaddeus M. Baklinski
MONTREAL, June 25, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Loyola Catholic High School has finished presenting its case in court against Quebec's mandatory Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC) program. The case was launched after the Department of Education refused to allow the school to continue teaching its own Catholic-centered religion course.
The private Catholic boys' school objects to the province's mandatory course on the grounds that it conflicts with the school's Catholic character and presents a relativistic world-view of religion.
"Our parents send their sons to us because of our mission and the values that we hold as a Catholic, Jesuit school," wrote Loyola High School principal Paul Donovan in a letter to the Department of Education. "It is our firm conviction that we cannot honestly undertake the program ... without compromising some of those values."
Quebec Education Minister Michelle Courchesne has denied all applications for exemption from the ERC and has made it clear that any religious education program that promotes one religion over any other is not acceptable.
"Part of the mandate of the course is to present religion in an even-handed way," said Daniel Weinstock, a professor who consulted in the drafting of the new program, in a recent MacLeans magazine report. "If a school has as its guiding intention to inculcate children into the Catholic faith, it clearly means a part of their mandate is not to present all religions in an even-handed way."
In a letter to the Montreal Gazette, Paul Donovan defended both Loyola's existing World Religions program as fully competent to fulfill the religious education requirements of its students according to Department of Education guidelines, and the school's motivation for taking the Department of Education to court.
"World Religions has been a course at Loyola for well over 25 years and mandatory for the last 12; we made the decision that no student should graduate from Loyola without a healthy knowledge and respect for other religions," wrote Mr. Donovan.
"We made this decision long before it was a popular thing to do, as it is completely in keeping with our educational philosophy. Every ethical issue and the variety of positions outlined in ERC has been a part of our program for as long as I can remember (which includes my time as a student).
"I would argue that by the time our students graduate, they are able to write any test on world religions or ethics that the ministry would like to create."
Recalling the school's request for exemption from the province's mandated program, Mr. Donovan said, "Our request to the Ministry of Education was simply to allow us to teach all of the competencies, content and goals of the program using a structure and methodology that is more in keeping with our Jesuit and Catholic identity. We were informed that these things cannot be taught "according to ministerial expectation" in a Catholic context. Our question to the courts, since the ministry would not talk with us, is quite simply, Why not?"
"Did Martin Luther King put aside his Baptist Christian roots to stand up for civil rights or did his stand flow out of his beliefs? Did Gandhi put aside his Hinduism to pursue non-violence in a secular way or did his philosophy flow from his spirituality? The common good is not secular; it is common. Can we not pursue these things from within our own traditions and beliefs or do we all need to become secularists first?"
Questioning the presumption of the authors of the ERC that the program would accomplish its laudable goals of "pursuit of the common good and the recognition of others," Mr. Donovan asked, "Are we not permitted to ask that question without being labeled 'fanatics or extremists'? So much for tolerant dialogue. We actually have far more experience with teaching and implementing programs like these than the ministry or any of the philosophers who have devised the ERC."
"Does the ERC's vision of pluralism mean that we must all think in the same reductionist way or can we all explore and contribute to the common good from the uniqueness and beauty in the diversity of our beliefs?" Donovan concluded.
The Quebec court has not indicated when it will hand down a decision.
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