By Patrick B. Craine

DRUMMONDVILLE, Quebec, September 29, 2009 ( – The Quebec family whose petition was denied by a Drummondville judge in August to exempt their children from Quebec's mandatory program in religious and ethical relativism, 'Ethics and Religious Culture' (ERC), has filed a motion for leave to appeal that decision.

Judge Jean-Guy Dubois of the Quebec Superior Court issued his decision on August 31st.  The parents had maintained that the school program violated their freedom of conscience and religion, saying in a statement before the case that “the course imposes on the student a polytheistic vision of the religious phenomenon, is relativist, separates ethics from morality, and claims to maintain a neutrality in dealing with ethical questions, and interferes with the ability of parents to transmit their faith to their child.”

The ERC program was developed by the Quebec Ministry of Education, who mandated it for all children from grades 1 to 11 as of the 2008-2009 school year.   The relativist curriculum covers a spectrum of world religions and ethical practices in a spirit of openness.

The parents took the matter to court in May after the Ministry of Education had refused their request for exemption, as it had the 1700 other requests.

According to Judge Dubois in his decision, however, parents' freedoms are not violated because there is no obligation imposed by the curriculum for children to believe the religious or ethical ideas the course teaches.  “In light of all the evidence presented,” he wrote, “the court does not see how the … course limits the plaintiff's freedom of conscience and of religion for the children when it provides an overall presentation of various religions without obliging the children to adhere to them.”

The parents filed their motion on Tuesday with the Quebec Court of Appeal, seeking permission to appeal Judge Dubois' decision.  They will present their position next Tuesday morning, October 6, in Montreal.

Montreal's Loyola Catholic High School, a private Catholic boys' school, brought a case against the ERC program in June, and still awaits the court's decision.  Even though the school already required the study of world religions, their request for exemption was refused.

The Quebec bishops have been critical of the program, most notably Cardinal Marc Ouellett, archbishop of Quebec City, who has strongly condemned it, saying, for example, that it “would create a narrow secularist legalism that excludes religion from the public sphere.”

The Quebec Assembly of Bishops, who have chosen an approach of “openness and prudence” in evaluating the program, issued their initial assessment last week.  In their report, they stated that they were “concerned,” indicating that parents have not been sufficiently informed about the program, teacher training is lacking, and the presentation and place given to Christianity does not live up to the program's own requirements.

Despite their negative assessment, the bishops have chosen simply to continue 'monitoring' the program.

petition has been launched by concerned Catholic parents, asking the bishops to “recognize the position of the Vatican regarding the education of our children and that, at the same time, they cease their many collaborations with the government of Quebec leading to the savage imposition of the ethics and religious culture course against our faith and that of the Church.”

The statement refers to a document from the Congregation for Catholic Education that was sent out in May, but released earlier this month.  The document declares unequivocally that school programs such as that in Quebec are unacceptable and fundamentally dangerous to faith.  “If religious education is limited to a presentation of the different religions, in a comparative and 'neutral' way,” they wrote, “it creates confusion or generates religious relativism or indifferentism.”

The website of the petition features one section with some photos from the ERC textbooks – including, for example, a page from a workbook for 13-14 year olds, that, in asking the child to identify his gender, lists three options: boy, girl, and “I do not know yet.”

Listing the e-mail addresses of the province's bishops, they encourage parents to share stories with them about their children's negative experiences in the program.  The website, in French, features numerous comments from parents whose families have already been affected negatively by the program.

Find the website for the petition to the Quebec Catholic Bishops here.

See related coverage:

Vatican: the State Must Respect Parents' Wishes in Religious Education

Quebec Bishops 'Concerned' With Compulsory Course in Relativism, Will Continue 'Monitoring'

Quebec Judge Denies Families Religious Exemption From Mandatory School Course in Relativism