Sunday, February 19, 2012

Supreme Court - Religious Freedom and Schools

 Many points to be considered by parents, educators and our democratic society.

The decision aside: might community matters be decided democratically, through consensus and community building.

When we refer decisions that are of importance to individuals and communities to external agencies such as the Supreme Court,  we abdicate our democratic right to be engaged in the process.

And what about the decision?  Any comments?


The Supreme Court of Canada.

Photograph by: Chris Mikula , The Ottawa Citizen

Catholic parents in Quebec cannot keep their kids out of a school course that teaches them about other religions, the country's top court has ruled.
The Supreme Court of Canada on Friday rendered its decision in a controversial case that was cast by some observers as a matter of religious freedom versus a bid by the province to increase tolerance.
Allowing children to opt out of the course would be "a rejection of the multicultural reality of Canadian society and ignores the Quebec government's obligations with regard to public education," the court ruled.
The case pit a set of Catholic parents against the school board and the province of Quebec.
Quebec's Ethics and Religious Culture program became mandatory for schools in May 2008.
In the course, students learn about the Catholic and Protestant Christian traditions in Quebec culture. The program is meant to expose students— who are also taught about the contributions of Judaism, aboriginal spirituality and other religious traditions— to a variety of religions.
The couple from Drummondville, Que., at the centre of the case, who can't be identified, wrote to their children's schools asking that they be exempt from the course.
They said they didn't want their children taking the course because of "the disruption caused by forced, premature contact with a series of beliefs that were mostly incompatible with those of the family, as well as the adverse effect on the religious faith of the members of this family," court documents said.
The parents maintained that the program interfered with their ability to pass on the Catholic religion to their children, and that exposing their children to various religions was confusing for them.
The couple went to court after the Commission scolaire des Chenes refused to exempt their two children.
Quebec's Education Department had publicly announced there would no exemptions.
In 2009, a Quebec Superior Court judge rejected the parents' request for an exemption for their children, ruling their right to freedom of religion was not being violated.
Last year, the Quebec Court of Appeal rejected their bid to appeal the decision. There were eight interveners in the case, including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
On Friday, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal.
The court's panel of judges was unanimous in its final decision, finding that the parents did not sufficiently prove that the program infringed on their right to freedom of religion.
"It is not enough for a person to say that his or her rights have been infringed," a summary of the judgment stated. "The person must prove the infringement on a balance of probabilities."
In an explanation of the ruling, Justice Marie Deschamps explained "the early exposure of children to realities that differ from those in their immediate family environment is a fact of life in society."
"Parents are free to pass their personal beliefs on to their children if they so wish," she wrote.
"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."
Due to the neutral nature of the program, Justice Louis LeBel wrote that simply exposing children to religions is not enough to be considered a violation of freedom of religion.
"The very nature of a public education system implies the creation of opportunities for students of different origins and religions to learn about the diversity of opinions and cultures existing in our society, even in religious matters," wrote LeBel. "Imparting information about different views of the world cannot be equated with a violation of freedom of religion."

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