QUEBEC – A court ruling upholding a mandatory school course about different faiths for pupils has sparked anger in Canada’s largest province of Quebec.
"What we're hoping is that the Quebec minister of education will revisit their attitude towards this course," said Jean Morse-Chevrier, the head of the Catholic Parents Association, reported CBC New.
The Supreme Court on Friday upheld a mandatory school course that teaches pupils about different faiths.
"Parents are free to pass their personal beliefs on to their children if they so wish,” Justice Marie Deschamps wrote in her ruling.
“However, the early exposure of children to realities that differ from those in their immediate family environment is a fact of life in society.”
In 2008, the Quebec government introduced a mandatory course on ethics and religious culture to teach pupils about different faiths.
The course, which replaced the former Protestant and Catholic religious courses for all students except those in Grade 9, was billed by the government as a way to foster harmonious relations among students of different backgrounds.
But the course was challenged by Canadian parents, who argued that the curriculum interferes with their ability to pass on their faith to their children, and violates their freedom of religion.
But the court rejected the parent’s argument.
"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," Justice Deschamps said.
The parents criticized the court ruling, vowing to challenge the mandatory religious course, The Chronicle Herald reported.
"My son is in fourth grade and he already asks questions about his own religion and I find it sad that it’s happening at such a young age," mother S.L. said.
"There’s a time for everything and I think that teaching about other religions should be done a little later, when the kids are a little older."
The family’s lawyer said that he would continue his fight against the course content.
"They lost because, according to the rules of evidence, they are the ones who have the burden," lawyer Mark Phillips said.
"But one should be very careful to avoid concluding that today’s judgment in any way validates the constitutionality of the program."
Despite ruling in the course’s favor, some judges have expressed reservations at the curriculum.
"The evidence concerning the teaching methods and content and the spirit in which the program is taught has remained sketchy," Justice Louis LeBel wrote.
He argued that the course made it hard to see any impact on the students.
"As a result of the state of the record, however, I am also unable to conclude that the program and its implementation could not, in the future, possibly infringe the rights granted to the appellants and persons in the same situation."
But the Quebec government defended the course, saying it was a vehicle for co-existence and tolerance.
“It is rather learning to live together, and learning how these religions, particularly the Catholic and Protestant religions, played a role in the development of Quebec culture,” Education Minister Line Beauchamp said in an interview with The Canadian Press.Muslims make around 2.8 percent of Canada's 32.8 million population, and Islam is the number one non-Christian faith in the Roman Catholic country.
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