By Patrick B. Craine
MONTREAL, Quebec, February 26, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The Quebec Court of Appeal has rejected the appeal of the Drummondville family who sought exemptions for their children from the province's compulsory course in relativism, 'Ethics and Religious Culture' (ERC). According to Justice Yves-Marie Morissette, their appeal is “doomed to failure.”
The parents were appealing the August 31st, 2009 decision of Justice Jean-Guy Dubois, who determined that the program did not violate the family's freedom of conscience or religion because the curriculum does not require the children to believe what it teaches.
Exemptions from classes are allowed under Quebec's Law on Public Education for “humanitarian reasons” or to avoid “serious injury” to the child. The parents have argued that these reasons are satisfied regarding their children's participation in the ERC course because the course violates their religious beliefs.
But, according to Morissette, if the court accepted that their freedom of conscience or religion justifies the exemption from this mandatory program, “we would have to do the same thing when every parent, in the name of any religious faith that is sincere, honest and subjective, invokes [the exemption article] and demands that their child be exempted from every part of the program that violates their religious convictions.”
“I cannot believe that this is the purpose of this provision,” he continued, “and I cannot believe either that an interpretation of the Law respecting the freedom of conscience would not tolerate any result besides this.”
In particular, the judge dismissed the appeal on the grounds – argued by the Quebec Attorney General – that currently neither of the two children “is subject to the obligation to follow the [ERC] course.” So, he wrote, “the appeal … is therefore theoretical or lacking a real stake.” The elder child is now attending college, so the course no longer applies.
Regarding the younger child, the judge wrote that he “is exempted from taking the course” because he has been enrolled in a private school.
However, the case is complicated further by the fact that the Ministry of Education has been adamant in requiring that private schools also teach the program. For example, Loyola High School, a Catholic boys' school in the Jesuit tradition, currently has a case before the Quebec Superior Court to challenge the Ministry on its decision to reject their request to adapt the ERC course in accordance with the Catholic perspective of the school.
Now the Association of Catholic Parents of Quebec (APCQ), the Coalition pour la liberté en éducation (CLE), and the lawyer for the parents are arguing that in his decision Morissette has actually granted the requested right of exemption from the course for private schools. Based on that they contend that students in public schools should be afforded the same right.
Jean-Yves Côté, the parents' lawyer, told CBC News that the decision only benefits parents who can afford private school. “Well, we ended up in a situation where you have more rights if you have more money,” he said. “There seems here to be two or maybe three classes of citizens or parents — those who can afford sending their kids to private school and those who cannot.”
CLE President Sylvain Lamontagne stated, in a press release issued yesterday, “On behalf of all parents and teachers in Quebec, we are pleased with this first decision against the unilateral imposition of the ERC course. … We hope that the family will go further in order to also benefit all parents and teachers for children in the public sector.”
According to ACPQ President Jean Morse-Chevrier, “The ministry has to amend the instructions it sends to school boards so that public schools grant the same right of exemption from the ERC course as the court has just recognized for private schools.”
But, the Ministry of Education disagrees. A spokeswoman told the Montreal Gazette that the claim that private schools do not have to teach the course is false. “All public and private schools have to teach ethics and religious culture,” said Tamara Davis.
The Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) also took the ruling as suggesting that private schools are exempted from the requirement to teach the course. In a press release today, they called on the Ministry of Education to “extend religious freedom to all Quebec parents by making the new [ERC course] optional for all students, not just those in private schools.”
“It is quite simply unacceptable that most families are denied a right, allowed in theory by the Law on Public Education (LIP), but denied to them in practice,” said Morse-Chevrier, also a member of CCRL's board of directors.
“The League supports Quebec’s Catholic parents, and those of other faiths, in their insistence that parents are the first educators of their children, and have the right to choose their religious education,” the press release added. “This request is completely in keeping with Catholic Church teaching, and UN statements on parental rights.”
The ERC program was introduced in September 2008 as a replacement for the previous approach that provided a Catholic, Protestant, and non-religious option. It has sparked a large outcry from religious believers, as well as secularists and nationalists.
Polls have shown that the course is largely unpopular in the province. For example, an October 2008 poll by Leger Marketing found that 72 percent of parents thought parents should be able to choose between ERC and a denominational religious education program.
In December, the Action Democratique du Quebec party renewed their call for a moratorium on the course. Party leader Gerard Deltell said the party wants to take “a time out to ask what we want to teach our children, what heritage we want to leave them with this course.”
While the opposition Parti Quebecois support the fundamental aims of the course, in December they called for a major revision of the program following the release of a strongly critical report that argued the course emphasizes multiculturalism over and above the province's historical and cultural identity.
LifeSiteNews did not hear back from the Ministry of Education by press time.
See the Quebec Court of Appeals' ruling here (in French).
See related LifeSiteNews.com coverage:
New Study Rips Into Quebec Relativism Course
Quebec Considers Proposal to Take Even Greater Control of Private Schools
Quebec Family Files Appeal Motion for Exemption from Mandatory Relativism Course
Quebec Bishops 'Concerned' With Compulsory Course in Relativism, Will Continue 'Monitoring'