Summer 2014 | Every high school student in the province of Quebec is required to take an Ethics and Religious Culture class that has come under fire from all angles, including from many parents who would prefer to instruct their children in religious matters at home. And because it requires teachers to present all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Native spirituality, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism, as “neutral,” Montreal’s Loyola High School principal, Paul Donovan, felt that it was unrealistic and unnecessary for him to put his school’s clear religious affiliation aside for a religion class, of all things.
That’s why Cardus, valuing excellence in education and pluralism in our institutions, has come alongside Loyola High School, a private Jesuit school in Montreal, Quebec.
“From our perspective,” explains Donovan, “faith is not just a hat you put on, but it’s part of your identity; it’s part of who you are. So to say, ‘Don’t be who you are, for two hours or three hours or a minute,’ first of all, it’s not possible. But second, that kind of imposition is at the very core of what our rights are about.”
The Quebec Superior Court granted Loyola the right to teach the course from a Catholic perspective in 2010, but the government then appealed the decision, resulting in a loss for Loyola in 2012. Loyola in turn brought the case to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Last year, Cardus got on board with this monumental case, which will help to determine whether institutions, and not only individuals, have religious freedom.
“If the government’s authority extends to a private, confessional school in order to tell us what we have to do and the way we have to do it,” says Donovan, “that is essentially giving the State a power to enter into the religious lives of people.”
Cardus president Michael Van Pelt and senior director of publications and media Peter Stockland joined Donovan on a cross-Canada tour to help promote awareness and offer interviews to media outlets regarding this issue. As Stockland told the Calgary Herald, “If the Supreme Court rules in favour of the Quebec government’s stance, it will legitimize the province’s position that religion is a mere lifestyle choice and not a matter of deeply rooted personal identity.” Cardus executive vice president Ray Pennings has since appeared in a televised interview to comment on the case as well.
In preparation for the Supreme Court hearing in March 2014, Cardus helped to mobilize a group of organizations that were allowed to present arguments and concerns regarding potential resolutions before the court. This group of “interveners” included the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the Catholic Civil Rights League, the World Sikh Organization of Canada, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and several others. Cardus worked with these organizations to help consider which concepts and arguments could best bolster the case.
A decision from the Court is expected at some point this year.