By Patrick B. Craine
September 4, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Quebec's Coalition pour la Liberté en Education (CLE) has expressed their shock over the Monday court ruling in Drummondville that shut down parents' attempts to have their children exempted from the province's recently imposed school program in relativism, 'Ethics and Religious Culture' (ERC).
Questioning the legal basis of the ruling, CLE president Marie-Josée Croteau criticized the judge for basing his decision on the teachings of the Catholic Church. “We are surprised and indignant,” she said. “This decision is based on an interpretation of the Catholic religion, so we demand respect for the rights of all citizens, believers and atheists.”
“The courts are qualified to rule on the sincerity of the religious or philosophical belief of the plaintiff,” said CLE spokesman Richard Décarie. “The State is not capable to act as an arbiter of religions and will not become so.”
Décarie reiterated in an interview with LifeSiteNews that the fundamental problem with the judge's ruling is his “basing [his] argumentation on the Catholic faith instead of the right to freedom of religion and conscience.”
Even so, given the reliance on Catholicism, he believes the judge employed a faulty understanding of Catholic teaching. “It was based on the theologian's opinion more than on the Catholic faith,” he said, referring to the testimony of Fr. Gilles Routhier. “For one example, we had a letter from the Vatican saying that that course was the equivalent of pluralism…, it was very bad, and the judge refused to use that proof for the case itself.”
The judge, he says, “used testimony from one theologian from a university in Quebec, and he didn't care about all the other witnesses he had in that case. So we think it was favorizing the only opinion that was presented to the judge that he agreed with.”
The ERC program, spanning grades 1 to 11, was mandated for all students by the Quebec Ministry of Education as of the 2008-2009 school year. From the earliest age, the curriculum presents a pluralistic viewpoint, purporting to cover the major world religions with total objectivity, and advocates moral relativism, as, for example, in its normalization of homosexuality. It replaces a religious education program that had allowed parents to choose between a Catholic, Protestant, or secular curriculum.
Following a loud reaction, over 1,700 requests for exemptions have been submitted by parents, but all have been refused.
The Monday court ruling was made in a case brought by a family with two children in school, who had had their exemption request refused.
The mother, Suzanne Lavallee of Drummondville, sent a letter yesterday to the National Post and this morning to Montreal's La Presse. She objected to the papers misrepresenting her position by including comment from University of Sherbrooke law professor Sébastien Lebel-Grenier, who accused her of promoting ignorance.
“What parents were demanding was the right to ignorance, the right to protect their children from being exposed to the existence of other religions,” Lebel-Grenier said.
“That is false,” she wrote, “and describes me unjustly as an obscurantist.”
“The question is not for us a question of knowledge of objective facts about religions, but the risk associated with a particular presentation of these facts at an early age,” she explains.
The true purpose of the course, she says, “is to inculcate a pluralistic vision of religion: all religions are good, many are better than one, all have some truth, and none therefore is really true, because they contradict.”
“Regarding the ethical component of the course,” she says, “we decided to ask that our eldest son be exempted after he told us that he felt very uncomfortable about 'ethical' discussions and debates that treated sexuality in a way that seemed to him intrusive and indecent.”
“Teachers cannot tell what is true or false and everything is permitted,” she says. “We do not see how this constitutes a good education and we would have preferred that our son take courses that are more useful and constructive.”
The judge's decision relied in part on the position of the Quebec Assembly of Bishops, which, as the judge cited in his decision, had indicated in a letter to the education minister that they did not consider religious exemptions to be warranted without having first experienced the program.
A spokeswoman for the bishops' assembly, Rolande Parrot, told LifeSiteNews that they have no comment on the case. “We don't have to pronounce something about that,” she said. “It's the government. It's not you. It's not us. It's just the government and the people.”
She would not comment on the ERC program either, indicating that the bishops would be addressing the program at the September 23rd plenary assembly.
The bishops' assembly issued a statement in March 2008 wherein they noted the possible benefits and problems of the government program, indicating ultimately that “it is difficult to answer these questions in the abstract.”
“It's with experience that we will be able to judge whether the program's benefits outweigh its limitations,” they wrote, “and whether its application will be consistent with the good intentions therein.”
They called for strict monitoring of the program over three to five years from the date of its inception in 2008.
Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Archbishop of Quebec and Primate of Canada, has long protested the program, however, speaking out strongly.
The Cardinal appeared at the end of 2007 before the Bouchard-Taylor Commission, which sought public reaction to the program, to defend religious freedom and the province's Catholic roots. The mandated course, he said, “subjects religions to the control and the interests of the State and puts an end to religious freedoms in school which were acquired many generations ago.”
The Cardinal came out again in an article at the end of 2008 in which he decried the rise of secularism in Quebec. At the time, he was quoted as calling the program “the dictatorship of relativism applied beginning in elementary school.”
Referring to the ERC program, he wrote in the article, “No European nation has ever adopted such a radical approach.”
“This law does not serve the common good, and cannot be imposed without being perceived as a violation of religious freedom by the citizens,” he said. “It would not be reasonable to retain it as it has been issued, because it would create a narrow secularist legalism that excludes religion from the public sphere.”
In April this year, the Cardinal admitted frankly that Catholics are persecuted in Quebec, and mentioned the ERC program. “We must offer a choice between a course in biblical culture and the course of the State so that people have a choice and they discover the matrix of Western culture,” he explained.
LifeSiteNews was told that Cardinal Ouellet has not had time yet to review the court ruling, so is not prepared to comment.
There have been two other cases brought against the ERC program. One was in Granby, where some children had been suspended by their school for refusing to attend the class. According to CLE's Décarie, in that case, the judge ordered that the children not be suspended, but attached his decision to the Drummondville case. Décarie pointed out how that would seem to be problematic now, given that the Drummondville judge decided based on Catholic teaching and the children in the Granby case are not even Catholic.
The other case was brought by Loyola High School, a private Catholic boys' school that objects to the Ministry's requirement that it present all religions on an equal footing. LifeSiteNews was not able to reach Loyola principal Paul Donovan after repeated calls.
The Drummondville parents have 30 days to appeal as of last Monday. Even though their costs have been very high thus far, Décarie expects they will pursue that option, saying that much of the appeal has already been written by their lawyers.
See related LifeSiteNews.com coverage:
Quebec Judge Denies Families Religious Exemption From Mandatory School Course in Relativism