It is regrettable that the judge of the Quebec case did not step up to the plate and affirm the principle of parental exemption at this time. It was not denied (in fact the burden of proof could not be met because when the case was filed the children were not enrolled in the course), but the parents were not allowed to exercise their foresight about harm likely to come to the child in the form of the undermining of family religious values. The court's decision now requires that parents subject the child to circumstances they can foresee to be harmful before seeking exemption. This shift to putting the onus on parents in Quebec to justify why their child should be exempted in a way is new in Canada. It is a heavy burden which has been laid on parents by the Supreme Court. It also goes against international declarations that Canada is signatory to and which recognize the parent as the primary educator and the school as subsidiary to the parent.
Parents elsewhere in Canada may see parallels between their situation and the one in Quebec. PAFE advises parents in public non-denominational schools, who currently are denied the possibility of exemption from school equity programming, to document the way that their children are being negatively affected by government curricula on faith, ethics, and sexual education, submit complaints to their school boards, and continue to demand exemptions from their school boards. A complaint must contain curriculum specifics or teacher comments that infringed on freedom of conscience and must demonstrate negative effects on the student. From the kinds of complaints coming forward from across the country now, it appears that though difficult and time-consuming, it will not be impossible to document these cases.
The Quebec ethics course was described by the court as neutral about truth claims, a position that is, according to its proponents, necessary in order to allow co-existence of many different religious groups in the public square. The Quebec ethics course aspires solely to provide information about the content of different belief systems without allowing affirmation of any faith as more truthful than any other, so says the court.
What this looks like in the classroom, practically speaking, is that teachers are obliged to always treat the contents of different religious traditions side by side according to themes. For example the Quebec curriculum surveys the main religious figures: Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, etc. The manuals present the story of Jesus' birth alongside an animal story, the Christmas of the mice. Teachers cannot take sides when presenting any material and they must correct children who think their religion is the true one.
One can see why the absurdity of the placement of a salvation story next to a heartwarming Hallmark story could reduce any believer to tears, including the Drummondville parents. The problem is that religious parents recognize in the smorgasbord approach a relativistic philosophy which proposes that all religions are equally important and none more true than any other. Religious parents will of course find that this approach undermines the notion of religious values that they are teaching at home. The question for parents and governments is how to respectfully accommodate the right of parents to educate their children in a faith-based way, which assumes the ability of rational people to discuss and agree on truth claims, in a society in which most of our contemporaries simultaneously embrace statements that the truth is not possible, and that such and such is the truth. The Quebec course requires students to behave as though they believe that truth is relative when they don't. In fact the statement that “no religion is any more true than any other” is itself a truth claim. Parents As First Educators (PAFE) asserts that any program in any school will be based on someone's belief; it can never be truly neutral. As parents we constantly need to challenge the common belief that a secular view of reality is neutral. Governments can only seek programs which are acceptable to the majority of citizens.
A stopgap measure for parents who don’t agree with the smorgasbord approach to
teaching religion, a group which could include atheists as well as believers, is simply
to allow exemptions to the mandated curriculum for parents who have
conscientious objections or to render it optional.
But given the large number of people who have made complaints, perhaps it would be better to eliminate the course rather than continue to pit parents against boards and schools. The simplest long-term solution might be for public non-denominational schools to pull ethics courses altogether, as Spain did recently with a similar course, and leave religious and ethical instruction to parents and clerics. Canadian children will learn to recognize the values of multi-culturalism in their daily interactions. As far as the current fad of promoting diversity as the antidote for bullying, there is no proof that exposure to diversity creates a kinder, gentler culture. Think of the American Amish, homogenous but gentle in their response to aggression. Or else perhaps a non-religious and a religious version could be offered, if parents could agree on the content of the latter. Whatever solution is found must respect the presence of numerous religious parents in Canada and the prime role of parents as first educators of their children, which the current Quebec course does not.
To view some complaints about the type of course materials and testimonials from teachers in Quebec,
click here for material encouraging the student to question gender identity
here for a teacher's vulgar interpretations of Catholic teachings, and
here for an instructor's view of the harmful effects of the program's relativistic approach
More statements on the Quebec decision from
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