OTTAWA, Ontario, May 19, 2011 ( – In a case that could have far-reaching effects for parental rights and religious freedom for Canadians, the Supreme Court of Canada began hearings yesterday to decide whether Quebec parents should be allowed to exempt their children from the province’s relativistic “Ethics and Religious Culture” (ERC) course.

The Supreme Court heard arguments from several interveners in the case yesterday, but it will be some months before the Court issues a decision.

Since the beginning of the 2008-2009 school year, the Quebec government has mandated the relativistic religious education course for all primary and secondary schools, private and religiously affiliated schools, and even for parents home schooling their children.

Claiming to take a “neutral” stance, the curriculum covers a spectrum of world religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and aboriginal spirituality, as well as pseudo-religions such as atheism, requiring students to question their own religious upbringing.

It has been criticized for its approach to moral issues, teaching even at the earliest grades, for instance, that homosexuality is a normal choice for family life.

“In that course they teach that all religions are basically the same, allowing no distinction for truth or false-hood [and] that ethics can be determined by conversation, allowing no foundation in absolute truth,” says Don Hutchinson, Vice President of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), one of intervening parties in the case.

The course is being challenged by a Catholic family of Drummondville who argue that its mandatory nature violates their freedom of religion, as protected by the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and their right to direct the education of their children.

In September 2009 the Quebec Superior Court denied the parents’ request for exemption from the ERC course, ruling that their freedom was not violated because the curriculum did not require the children to believe what it teaches. After appealing the ruling, the family’s case was again rejected by the Quebec Court of Appeals in February 2010. 

“The result of this decision communicates that the state may impose a curriculum that conflicts with the moral codes parents wish to instil in their children and that parents do not have ultimate authority over the moral and religious education of their children,” says the EFC.

Exemptions from the controversial classes are allowed under Quebec’s Law on Public Education for “humanitarian reasons” or to avoid “serious injury” to the child.  To date, however, of the thousands of parents and schools who have requested such exemptions, all but one have been refused.

A Quebec Superior Court decision from June 2010 provided exemption for a private Catholic boys’ school, Montreal’s Loyola High School, ruling that the government was “totalitarian” to impose the religious education course on a school that had for decades taught other world religions in a Catholic context.

Two scientific polls from 2008 and 2009 show that over 75 percent of Quebecers are against the mandatory course, according to the Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL), another intervening party in the Supreme Court case.

Eight parties, including the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Catholic School Trustees’ Association, and the Christian Coalition for Parental Rights in Education (CCPRE), which includes the Catholic Civil Rights League, have been added as interveners in the hearings to present their case to the Supreme Court in support of parents’ rights to determine the religious education of their children.

“This case will cut to the core of what freedom of religion and conscience and parental authority mean in Canada,” states Don Hutchinson of EFC. “Parents simply want the right to teach morality and religion from their perspective, or decide who will do so on their behalf. The right to pass on one’s religious and cultural heritage to their children is a fundamental aspect of religious freedom and parental authority in Canada.”

Jean-Yves Cote, the lawyer representing RCDPE, agreed with Hutchinson, “The role of government is to support the parent in his work as an educator, not to replace him.”

Meanwhile, Benoît Boucher, arguing for the Attorney General of Quebec, told the court yesterday that the religious education course is “neutral” on religion, a stance the government has taken repeatedly.

According to the government, the course has the objective the instructing children in a manner that will promote “the development of attitudes of tolerance, respect and openness,” thus “preparing them to live in a pluralist and democratic society.”

“It’s not enough to raise an objection and expect the whole system to bow down on the basis of it,” said Boucher.

Cote had a different opinion, “What is at stake is what Pope Benedict XVI calls the dictatorship of relativism,” he said. “That’s what we are dealing with here in that case. For us Catholics, tolerance is about accepting all persons, but not about accepting all ideas. That would go directly against our faith. That distinction is not understood by the Attorney General.”

“We need to be vigilant,” concluded Faye Sonier, Legal Counsel for EFC, noting the Supreme Court decision will take a few months. “Parental authority is important in Canada and children are our future.“

For more information read the EFC’s list of frequently asked questions.