Ontario Catholic School board to fight lawsuit seeking to exempt student from religious activities
MISSISSAUGA, Ontario, February 7, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – While a Catholic school board in Ontario has given in to the demands of a parent who demanded his son’s exemption from mandatory high school religion courses, they say they are unwilling to go further and exempt the student from all religious activiites.
Parent Oliver Erazo from Brampton is now threatening legal action against the board if it will not further exempt his son from anything remotely religious in the school, including school-wide religious activities and events.
Despite the threat of legal action, the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board (D-PCDSB) says it will stand its ground and not offer the student further exemptions.
“It is simply not possible to remove the faith aspect of a Catholic school in a system that infuses gospel values throughout the curriculum and life of the school,” wrote D-PCDSB spokesman Bruce Campbell in a statement e-mailed to LifeSiteNews.com.
The D-PCDSB called Erazo’s wish akin to “wanting his children to attend a French school, but insist on instruction, for his children, to be in a language other than French…and to not participate in activities or programs that include aspects of French culture.”
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Erazo won the initial exemption for his son on the grounds of section 42.11(b) of the province’s Education Act, which states that students can be exempted from religious studies if it is “impractical by reason of distance or terrain or by reason of physical handicap” for a student to “attend a secondary school operated by a public board.”
Erazo told media that he choose Notre Dame Catholic school for his children because of it being the closest school to his home and because the school was placed at the top of a list at a school-ranking website.
Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, a lawyer working pro bono for Erazo, is encouraging the parent to pursue legal action against the board, saying that the province’s education act states that parents can obtain a full exemption for their children from religious courses, programs, and activities.
“The exemption is clearly worded and it’s the law,” he said.
But critics of the initial D-PCDSB decision say that the board should not have caved into the parent’s request for exemption in the first place.
“The province’s Open Access policy does not require Catholic schools to simply allow students to opt-out of religious studies,” said Jack Fonseca of Campaign Life Catholics to LifeSiteNews. “The legislation actually makes it extremely difficult, almost impossible, for most students (or parents) to obtain such an exemption.”
“According to media reports describing the father’s alleged reasons for seeking the exemption, he clearly does not qualify for the narrow conditions where an exemption can be provided, as described under Section 42(11) of the Education Act.”
Fonseca pointed out that Catholic schools in Ontario have a “constitutional right, upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada, to operate authentically Catholic schools, without limitation.”
Gwen Landolt of REAL Women of Canada called it “troubling” that exemptions from religious studies in Catholic schools exist at all in the Education Act.
Landolt pointed out that the Catholic school system accommodated itself a “great deal” in 1985 — with the passage of Bill 30 — to the demands of the government so that the previously unfunded senior grades would receive full funding. She said that the Catholic system “watered down” its former confessional nature so as to “accommodate the funding” by including provisions for non-Catholic teachers and by allowing exemptions from religion class under certain circumstances.
While Landolt said the Catholic system essentially handed itself over to the whim of the government when it accepted public funding, she said that this particular case boils down to a parent sending his children to the wrong school.
“The parent is not a Catholic, the child has not been raised a Catholic, so what is the child doing there anyway? If you don’t want a Catholic education, go to a public school,” she said.
Fonseca agrees: “The solution for folks who want a Catholic school without the Catholicism already exists. It’s called the public school down the road.”
Fonseca said that the board’s initial exemption sets a bad precedent. “I also fear that if boards were to give into this request for ‘religious studies’ exemption, it would give rise to Catholic students in future demanding the right to opt-out of Catholic teaching, prayer, mass and faith activities. Once you let the camel’s nose under the tent, the whole camel will eventually enter in.”
But the D-PCDSB appears for now to be adamant in its decision against further exemption.
“It is our expectation that all students be respectful of, and participate in religious events and activities. Or at least attend religious events and activities that are synonymous with attending a Catholic school,” Campbell wrote.
“Parents who do not wish their children to be exposed to Christian Catholic teachings, values and traditions, factors that permeate the daily life of a Catholic school, and factors that they should most definitely have expected when they registered to attend a Catholic school, have other options available to them.”
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