By Thaddeus M. Baklinski

MONTREAL, October 17, 2008 ( – The new mandatory Ethics and Religious Culture program that was introduced this fall in Quebec schools has parents fuming, with many complaining that the program effectively removes their right to choose the kind of religious education their children receive. To show their displeasure a group of Quebec parents has organized a protest march for tomorrow, Saturday, October 18.

Three years ago, the clause in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms that guaranteed freedom of religious instruction and parental rights (parents have “the right to require that, in the public educational establishments, their children receive a religious or moral instruction in conformity with their convictions”) was changed without any public consultation. The amended clause read that parents have the “right to give their children a religious and moral education in keeping with their convictions and with proper regard for their children’s rights and interests.”

Removal of the phrase “in the public educational establishments” meant that parents no longer had any say in what type of religious instruction is given in the schools.

The new compulsory religion course, from which children cannot be exempted, replaces three options that had been available to Quebec students – a generic course in moral education or two other courses that were either Catholic or Protestant in nature.

The Canadian Press reports that lawyer Jean-Yves Cote, representing a couple in Drummondville that has started legal action against the their local school board and the government, says the number of angry parents is likely in the thousands and is growing.

The suit filed by Cote seeks the right for parents to exempt their children from the course.

A request for exemption from the Ethics and Religious Culture program by Loyola High School, a private Catholic boys’ school in Montreal, on the grounds that the course conflicted with the school’s Catholic character, was refused by Education Minister Michelle Courchesne, which prompted the school administration also to take the issue to court.

Sylvain Lamontagne, a parent from Valcourt, told the Canadian Press that he is concerned the course exposes his children to world religions at a very young age while threatening their Christian faith, and will cause confusion and push his kids towards atheism.

He refers to the new course as religious fast-food.

“We can’t do this to children. It will only confuse them,” said Lamontagne. “Religion isn’t a Chinese buffet. You can’t just pick one and then another however you want.”

The protest march, organized by Angelo Polcaro, hopes to see several thousand parents from all parts of the province gather in Montreal on Saturday to voice their displeasure to Quebec’s Education Department.

“How can a child, six-years-old, have an opinion on a religion when he doesn’t even know his own religion? He has to have a base before he can make an opinion,” Polcaro said in the Canadian Press report.

“I’ve got a problem with that. First let’s teach the child his own religion and then we can go from there.”

For more information please contact:

Martin P. Murphy, Executive Director
The English Speaking Catholic Council
2005 St. Marc
Montreal, Quebec, H3H 2G8
Phone: 514-937-2301
Fax: 514-907-5010
E-mail: [email protected]

Read related coverage:

Quebec Mandates Relativistic Ethical and Religious Education For All Students in Province