Fifteen Christian families from a tiny community of only about 1,300 people are making plans to leave their homes and work behind so that their children will not be forced by the Canadian government to attend “sanctioned” schools where evolution is taught.
A report in the Vancouver Sun said provincial officials have threatened the families with legal action, including the potential loss of their children to state control, if they do not abide by the mandatory education curriculum.
But leaders of the Mennonite families say they’ll leave Quebec before giving up their children to the state indoctrination.
“It’s kind of sad because we enjoy the community, we have friends and we have good rapport with our neighbors,” said Ronald Goossen, 56, who in the 1990s was among the first Mennonites from Manitoba to move to Roxton Falls, about 75 mile east of Montreal.
“But when they threaten to take our children and put them in foster homes, that’s beyond what we can accept,” he said.
The Mennonites, whose forefathers broke away from the reforms of Martin Luther because they were not radical enough and adopted several distinctive practices including adult baptism, established their own school in the community a few years after they arrived. Last year eight children were enrolled in grades 1-7, and this year 11 students were expected.
Children are taught reading, writing, math, science, geography, social sciences and music, as well as English and French.
But they didn’t use the government-mandated curriculum that includes the teachings of evolution, and other subjects to which parents objected. So authorities warned the parents they would face legal proceedings if their children were not enrolled in “sanctioned” schools this fall.
Goossen said the 30 parents and children in families who would be endangered will move immediately; the rest of the group will follow shortly later.
Officials said in addition to the issue of the curriculum, the teacher at the Mennonite school was not “certified.”
“To do that, we would have to send teachers to schools we don’t want to send our children to,” Goossen said.
“We don’t agree with the emphasis on evolution, which we consider false; we don’t like the morality standards; and we don’t like the acceptance of alternative lifestyles,” he said.
Town Mayor Jean-Marie Laplante has written to governmental officials seeking a one-year reprieve.
“We want to keep these people here – they’re part of our community,” Laplante told the newspaper.
The mayor said losing the families would hurt both economically and socially.
But officials were adamant.
“We are not trying to prevent them from living their life the way they want, but they have to obey the law when it comes to educating their kids,” said Education Ministry spokesman Francois Lefebvre.
The Mennonite, or Anabaptist, movement started in the 16th Century when a group of believers decided Luther hadn’t gone far enough. Church-state structures, however, didn’t tolerate them well, and over the next generations thousands were persecuted or martyred.
Survivors often went into hiding and from 1575 to 1850, membership grew primarily by parents passing their beliefs to their children. Today more than a million people around the world claim the Christian beliefs of Mennonites in about 60 countries.