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OTTAWA, March 18, 2015 ( — The Supreme Court of Canada will rule Thursday whether the Quebec government has the right to force a faith-based private high school to teach a controversial ethics and religious culture program (ERC) touted by the government as “secular” and “neutral.”

The program, running from grade one until the end of high school, has been criticized for its moral relativism, its positive portrayal of homosexuality, and for teaching children to question their own religious upbringing.

At the center of the case is Loyola High School, a Montreal Catholic school run by the Jesuits. In effect, the court will determine whether Catholic schools can truly be Catholic.

Significant points in the case:

  • September 2008 – The Ministry of Education mandates all schools province wide teach its “Ethics and Religious Culture” course (ERC).
  • March 2008 – Loyola applies for an exemption, asking that the Ministry allow the school to teach the competencies, content and goals of the program, but with a structure and methodology more in keeping with its Jesuit and Catholic identity. The Ministry refuses.
  • June 2009 – Loyola takes Ministry to Quebec’s Superior Court.
  • June 2010 – Superior Court sides with Loyola, calling the government’s efforts to impose the course “totalitarian” and saying it is “surprising” that the Ministry assumed that the school’s confessional program could not achieve the goals proposed by the program.
  • December 2012 – Ministry appeals. Quebec Court of Appeal overturns Superior Court's ruling, stating that “in light of the political will to secularize education” Loyola’s Catholic-perspective course cannot be considered “equivalent” to the ERC program, because the ERC course was specifically designed to be religiously “neutral.”
  • February 2013 – Loyola appeals to the Supreme Court.

“Loyola entered into this case with the fundamental belief that all people share in the common good. They participate as women and men who have values and beliefs, who are Catholic and Jewish and Muslim and atheist,” the school stated in a press release today.

“The Ethics and Religious Culture Program is conceived of as a way of teaching students to recognize the value of others and the pursuit of the common good. These are laudable values that we share and wish to form in our students, but we do not believe that the religious values and context of the school need to be suppressed in order to accomplish this. In fact, the religious values that are at the core of the school complete and shape those common values. This is the essence of pluralism; that each person can come to society as a whole person not as one stripped of his or her essential beliefs.”

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The Home School Legal Defense Association worries that a decision against Loyola could have negative implications for homeschoolers across Canada.

“If this case is lost, it will mean that the right to homeschool is called into question for the entire country,” said HSLDA Canada’s president Paul Faris to LifeSiteNews in 2013.

“If the government can tell a private school they can’t teach in accordance with their religious beliefs, then what’s to stop them from saying the same thing to homeschoolers,” he said at that time.

In February 2012 the Supreme Court ruled in a similar case that a Christian family does not have the right to have their child exempted from the same course in a public school.

“Exposing children to a comprehensive presentation of various religions without forcing the children to join them does not constitute an indoctrination of students that would infringe the freedom of religion of L and J,” the justices wrote in the majority decision at that time.