Peter Baklinski

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Private high school fights at Canada’s highest court for right to teach Catholic faith

Peter Baklinski

MONTREAL, Quebec, March 25, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A high school in Quebec fought this week for its Catholic identity before the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Jesuit-run Loyola High School hopes it will secure the right to teach its courses from a Catholic perspective and not be forced to teach the government-mandated ethics and religious culture course (ERC) from a secular and neutral perspective.

The Supreme Court heard arguments in Loyola High School v. Attorney General of Quebec Monday morning and is expected to issue its ruling later this year. The school is hoping to overturn a 2012 ruling from Quebec’s Court of Appeal requiring it to offer the course.

The case has been winding its way through the courts since 2008 when Loyola took the education minister to court after it forbade the school from covering the mandatory curriculum by means of an already developed course — which the school called equivalent  — but taught from a Catholic perspective. The minister argued however that Loyola’s course did not meet the requirements because it manifested a religious bias in being faith-based rather than secular.

The government ERC course was mandated for all grades in the 2008-09 school year. It purports to take a “neutral” stance on world religions, giving equal merit to all religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, but also pagan animism, Wicca, and atheism.

Critics slammed the course for its relativistic approach to truth and moral issues. For instance, contrary to Christian belief and the belief of other world religions, the course teaches children at the earliest grades that homosexuality is a normal and healthy expression of sexuality.

Loyola argued before the courts that the ERC program is “incompatible with Catholic beliefs of the school and it is not really neutral because it promotes an ideology of relativism.”

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), an intervener in the case, argued before the Supreme Court yesterday that the Charter guarantee of freedom of religion cannot be “easily brushed aside” in a country that claims to have a “free and democratic society.”

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“In our society, Canadians have long had the choice to meet the education requirements of the province through private religious education, whether in a religiously based school or through home schooling,” said Don Hutchinson, the EFC’s vice-president and general legal counsel, in a press release.

Barbara Kay, in a column for the National Post, criticized the Quebec government for suppressing the “expression of religious faith in citizens.”

“There seems to be confusion in Quebec’s approach between multiculturalism as a public policy and the right of the government to impose a multicultural outlook on every private individual. One is democratic, the other is autocratic.”

“To be neutral has not traditionally meant the suppression of expression of religious faith in citizens; it has meant that the state does not assign special privileges to any one religion over others. A truly neutral state would ‘live and let live.’ Quebec’s adversarial approach seems to say that for secularism to live, the rights of its citizens must die,’” she wrote.

Paul Allen, an associate professor of theological studies at Concordia University, called it “utterly ironic” for the Ministry of Education to take issue with Loyola.

“The provincial program does not recognize the pluralistic fact of Quebec society, since it forces religious schools to deny their identity in the guise of a state defined ‘neutrality.’ This is a neutrality that is not neutral at all.”

“The targeting of religious schools is bad for the schools, bad for freedom and bad for our society, which was founded to be free of institutionalized prejudice,” he wrote in a special to The Montreal Gazette.

The case comes before the Supreme Court at a time when Quebec faces severe national criticism over its proposed Charter of Values, a bill critics say would undermine religious freedom by forcing government employees to remove conspicuous religious symbols. The province has also faced criticism over its push to become the first province to legalize euthanasia through the back door as “medical aid in dying,” which was shelved by the election call earlier this month.

The Supreme Court decision is expected at its earliest in November. 

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