QUEBEC, December 20, 2010 ( – The Quebec government has banned religion from the province’s system of subsidized daycares.

The new directives, released Friday by the province’s Ministry of Families and Seniors, stipulate that government-funded daycares must not offer any activity that aims to teach a belief, dogma, or practice of a particular religion.

“I want young Quebecers who attend our daycare services to do so in a spirit of openness to others and diversity,” said Quebec’s Family Minister Yolande James.  She called the daycares “places of socialization and integration.”

As of June 1st, priests, rabbis, or other religious leaders will be barred from visiting the daycares, and it will be illegal to pray, do religious crafts, or sing religious songs – including many Christmas carols.  Religious symbols, such as Christmas trees, crucifixes, and menorahs will be allowed as cultural expressions, but staff will not be permitted to explain their religious significance.

The new scheme will be enforced by government inspectors. In order to meet the increased work load the province will be tripling the number of inspectors.

The province’s subsidized network of daycares includes about 2,000 facilities, with space for about 120,000 children.  James said about 100 of the daycares currently teach religion, and some will have to make substantial changes to their curriculum in order to comply.  They will have until June 1st, or else their subsidies could be suspended, reduced, or revoked.

Unsubsidized daycares will still be permitted to offer religious instruction, but they must compete with the government programs, offered at $7 a day (with about $40 a day of funding per child).

The move, which apparently was sparked by concerns about Jewish and Muslim daycares, prompted threats of a constitutional challenge from the Muslim Council of Montreal.  On Friday, the group called for a “united front” against the ban.  “We view it as explicit discrimination against the rights of religious communities to educate their children in the values and principles they hold dear,” said their president, Salam Elmenyawi.

At the same time, the opposition Parti Quebecois have criticized the Liberal government for not going far enough, saying that the directive still allows discrimination in the selection of children for daycare spots based on a parent’s religion.

The government’s decision is part of a decades-long process of radical secularization in the formerly Catholic province.  It follows the banning of religious instruction in schools, which came after the deconfessionalization of the school system in 2000.

Richard Decarie, spokesman for the Coalition pour la Liberté en Éducation (CLE), called the decision “totalitarian” and compared it to the “unilateral imposition” of the province’s highly-controversial ethics and religious culture program, which was mandated for all schools in September 2008.  The province has tried to enforce the course even on private schools, though the Quebec Superior Court said in June that this violated religious freedom, calling the government’s actions “totalitarian.”

“This liberal government – and the previous PQ one – are acting as socialist ones when it comes to education, imposing rules upon private institutions – schools and daycare – that are against the fundamental ‘belief and religious’ right,” said Decarie.  “Since the unilateral imposition of the ERC course – and as all socialist governments of the world – the Québec Government simply ignores the parental moral authority over their children.”

But Daniel Weinstock, a professor of philosophy at the Universite de Montreal, argued that the ban on religious instruction in schools is important for balancing the influence exerted on children by their families.  “Religious communities and families hold sway over children through the household and through churches, mosques and synagogues,” he told the National Post. “I don’t see it as a problem for daycares and schools to be, in a way, a kind of counterweight to the hold that religious communities and families have over their children.”

Dr. Douglas Farrow, Professor of Christian Thought at McGill University, criticized the notion that public funding of schools should entail the abandonment of religious instruction, however.

“The Government of Quebec no longer believes, apparently, that the state exists in the service of civil society,” he told LifeSiteNews in an e-mail.  “It does not seem to recognize that its part in vital matters of civil life, such as the pooling of resources for the care and education of children, is a secondary rather than a primary one. It thinks that in every partnership it makes – even those in which it reaps significant rewards by cooperating with parents in communal enterprises – it must be the controlling partner.”

“Rebuked by the Quebec Superior Court for its ‘tyrannical’ ways in imposing the Ethics and Religious Culture program on religious schools, [the government] nevertheless proceeds to ban religion itself from religious day-care centres that receive public funding,” continued Dr. Farrow.  “That a few of these day-care centres are problematic, I do not doubt, but this is not the right solution.  Why use a bulldozer to level a snow fort? The operators of this bulldozer may well find that they have once again mangled constitutional rights and freedoms.”