A case is heading to Canada’s Supreme Court over a provincial rule that effectively prevents Catholic schools from teaching religion and ethics from a Catholic perspective.
The issue has significance beyond Canada, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association in the United States, because it would provide further legal basis for government to tell parents how to educate their children.
The Quebec government requires that all schools present “Ethics and Religious Culture.” In 2008, the province passed rules that prohibit instructors from expressing any opinion regarding religious or ethical questions.
Officials with Loyola High School in Montreal, which filed the case, said they were fine with the program, and the materials were satisfactory. But they objected to telling their instructors they were banned from even expressing an opinion regarding religious or ethical questions.
A blogger questioned the logic of the government’s position, arguing that since stripping and charitable work both are legal professions, a teacher might be required to “maintain absolute neutrality in the classroom regarding the social benefits.”
HSLDA, which has a branch in Canada, asserted that a negative ruling by the nation’s highest court “would threaten the right of all parents to teach children in accordance with their religious beliefs.”
“The idea that parents – not governments – should decide how and what children are taught regarding values and religion is enshrined in fundamental notions of basic human freedom. Children are not the mere creatures of the state, and this idea has been uniformly held up as a vital human rights norm all over the world,” the organization said.
Paul Faris of the Home School Legal Defence Association of Canada said that if the ruling stands, “it undermines the very foundations that protect homeschooling.”
“Whatever the court decides will apply to everyone right across the country. A loss could seriously restrict homeschooling freedom,” he said.
Blogger Ray Pennings at The Cardus Daily blog said the appeal includes the question of whether schools have religious rights and to what extent the state can order the teaching of faith or morals.
“Both of these issues are fundamental. This case has the potential (depending on whether the Supreme Court chooses to decide this case narrowly or broadly) to profoundly impact the space that has for generations been enjoyed by Canadian parents to make their own choices regarding the education of their children.”
Faris noted problems already have erupted.
“This curriculum has already seriously threatened the freedom of parents to teach their children in accordance with their religious beliefs,” he said. “The Supreme Court previously ruled in a case in 2012 that the government could force students in public schools to attend the course. If the court rules against freedom of religion in this private school case, it will mean that homeschoolers will be the only ones left. Not only will this mean more pressure on us and a likely court challenge, but if the Supreme Court has already ruled against freedom of religion in two similar cases, they will be unlikely to rule … for us.”
The Canadian Charter of Right and Freedoms, part of the Canadian Constitution, states that everyone has the fundamental freedoms of conscience and religion. In 2005, however, the Québec legislature modified its own charter to let the government impose the curriculum on unsuspecting parents and educators.
Michael Donnelly, the director of International Affairs for HSLDA, said the “trend in recent years to restrict homeschooling in Québec is extremely concerning, particularly [in] light of this case.”
“Freedom of religion in Canada is essential for homeschoolers in Canada. If this case is lost, the right to homeschool will be called into question for all of Canada.” he said.
Arguments are expected before the court in March, with a decision coming later this year.
See a school official describe the problem:
Michael Smith, president of HSLDA and a board member of HSLDA of Canada, asks HSLDA members and friends to support Canadian homeschoolers in prayer.
“Our brothers and sisters in Canada have asked for wisdom and favor in the eyes of the court. This case reminds us that the freedom to homeschool is under attack not only in places such as Germany, but on our own continent as well. Please pray that HSLDA of Canada will be allowed to intervene in the case in order to argue the impact that a negative decision will have on homeschooling in Canada.”
WND has reported instances in which the Canadian government ordered enforcement of a moral position or belief.
Education Minister Laurel Broten said on the issue of abortion: “The Catholic teachings are one aspect that we teach in our schools, but we do not allow and we’re very clear with the passage of Bill 13 that Catholic teachings cannot be taught in our schools that violates human rights and which brings a lack of acceptance to participation in schools.”
She noted the same law and standards apply to the issue of teaching homosexuality.
“Bill 13 has in it a clear indication of ensuring that our schools are safe, accepting places for all our students. That includes LGBTQ students. … Bill 13 is about tackling misogyny, taking away a woman’s right to choose could arguably be one of the most misogynistic actions that one could take.”
WND also reported government officials in Canada shut down a Christian ministry because it condemned cults and other influences that the Bible condemns.
What used to be called MacGregor Ministries essentially was ordered shut down under that nation’s “hate crimes” laws, which prevent Christians from expressing biblical opinions on a wide range of issues.
The organization moved to the U.S. to become MM Outreach Media Ministries, according to spokeswoman Lorri MacGregor.
She said the ministry points out, with respect, the differences between Christianity and various cult beliefs. She said the work always is in response to a question or issue.
“When a group such as Jehovah’s Witnesses said of our doctrine we’re worshiping a freakish three-headed God (the Trinity), we should be able to respond,” she said. “We say, ‘Here’s the doctrine of the Trinity and here is where it is in the Scripture.'”
For that, the ministry was ordered to either make wholesale changes in its presentations or shut down.
“There was nothing we could do that would please them,” she said. “They wanted us every time we criticized something to say, ‘So Christianity is equal to Buddhism, Islam, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses. … Just decide for yourself.'”
“We cannot do that,” she said of the work she and her husband, Keith, have spent their lives developing.
The Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family, one of the largest Christian publishing and broadcasting organizations in the nation, at that time confirmed it had been editing its broadcasts to avoid complications with Canadian “hate crimes” laws.
In a statement attributed to Gary Booker, director of global content creation for Focus, the organization said broadcast standards have a “dynamic nature.”
“Our staff at Focus on the Family Canada works proactively to stay abreast of the dynamic nature of broadcast standards, Canadian Revenue Agency legislation and both national and provincial human rights laws,” the statement said.
“Parameters regarding what can be said (and how it should be said) are communicated by Focus on the Family Canada to our content producers here at Focus on the Family in the U.S. To the best of our ability, programming is then produced with Canadian law in mind,” Focus continued.
“In particular, our content producers are careful not to make generalized statements nor comments that may be perceived as ascribing malicious intent to a ‘group’ of people and are always careful to treat even those who might disagree with us with respect. Our Focus on the Family content creators here in the U.S. are also careful to consult with Focus on the Family Canada whenever questions arise. Focus on the Family Canada, in turn, monitors the content produced in the U.S. and assesses this content against Canadian law,” the group said.