Supreme Court Affirms Right of Province To Implement Religious Course

Today the Supreme Court of Canada released its landmark decision in the case of S.L. v.
Commission scolaire des Chênes. The case involved Catholic parents who objected
to their children being required by the Province of Quebec to take the Ethics
and Religious Culture course, which taught religion from a secular point of
view and equated all faith perspectives. The parents were offended that the
course treated Bible stories as legends and taught Christianity as a cultural matter,
rather than something that had any validity for ordering one’s life.

 

The Court decided that there was no evidence that the course interfered with the parents’
ability to pass their faith on to their children: “It is not enough for a
person to say that his or her rights have been infringed. The person must prove
the infringement on a balance of probabilities.” The Court accepted the
Ministère’s position that the purpose of the course was not to teach relativism
or influence the beliefs of the students. In the words of the court, “[T]he
early exposure of children to realities that differ from those in their
immediate family environment is a fact of life in society. The suggestion that
exposing children to a variety of religious facts in itself infringes their
religious freedom or that of their parents amounts to a rejection of the
multicultural reality of Canadian society and ignores the Quebec government’s
obligations with regard to public education.”

 

Our Concern

CCCC intervened in this case because it might set a precedent allowing provinces to implement a
particular mandatory religion course of their choosing at the expense of
violating the religious sensibilities of Christian schools and their
supporters.

 

The Court has shown a lack of regard for the religious sensitivities of the parents in this
case. Our concern is for the religious sensitivities of Christian schools to
choose their own religious curriculum. The Court was unable to see how the
Ethics and Religious Culture course, “interfere[d] with the applicants’ freedom
of conscience and religion for their children when what is done is to make a
comprehensive presentation of various religions without forcing the children to
join them.” The Courts said the government could not set up a “system that
favours or hinders any one religion or a particular vision of religion. Nevertheless,
it is up to the government to choose educational programs within its
constitutional framework.”

 

CCCC is of the view that the religious curriculum in question favours one particular vision of
religion – that of the Quebec government at the expense of the vision of the
parents who objected.

 

The Court’s holding therefore supports Quebec’s jurisdiction to set up a mandatory
religious course for all educational institutions including private religious
schools. Clearly this decision has compromised the ability of private religious
school supporters to protect their institutions from unwanted government
interference in matters of religious belief.

 

“Over the last number of years we have witnessed the diminution of religious freedom
protection in the Supreme Court’s decisions,” says Barry Bussey, V-P Legal
Affairs of the Canadian Council of Christian Charities, one of the groups that
intervened in the case. “This court continues to give greater deference to
government action though it interferes with religious practice.”

 

“CCCC is concerned about the precedent this decision could have on the ability of
Christian schools to select their own curriculum,” says John Pellowe, CEO of
Canadian Council of Christian Charities. “We will continue our monitoring of the
effect of this decision as it unfolds.”