The Canadian Catholic School Trustees’ Association is disappointed in the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision concerning the rights of parents to exempt their children from Quebec’s mandatory Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC) program.
The high court dismissed an appeal from parents in Drummondville, Que. who had sought to have their children exempt from the mandatory course when it was first introduced in 2008. The parents said they wanted to raise their children in the Catholic faith, and the course would confuse their children and undermine their efforts.
The course’s introduction was the final step in the secularization of Quebec schooling that began with a 1997 constitutional amendment replacing denominational school boards with linguistic ones.
It was met with protest marches in some cities, and about 2,000 parents asked that their children be exempted from attending the class. All such requests were refused.
Quebec’s Superior Court rejected the parents’ request in 2009 and their appeal was denied in 2010. Canada’s top court heard their case in May, 2011.
In February, 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the program does not violate the religious freedom of Catholic parents. Justice Marie Deschamps said the parents failed to show that the ERC course interfered with their ability to transmit their faith to their children.
Representing a coalition of our members across Canada, the Canadian Catholic Schools Trustees’ Association was granted intervener status along with seven other groups. CCSTA wanted to be involved in the case as our participation is consistent with our mission to “promote and protect the right to Catholic education in Canada.”
However, the court’s statement that the parents have not proven the ERC program infringed their freedom of religion, or consequently, that the school board’s refusal to exempt their children from the ERC course violated their constitutional right, is upsetting.
“The decision is most disappointing,” says CCSTA President Paula Peroni. “It is one of our fundamental beliefs that parents are the first educators of their children. Parents know what they want for their children in terms of moral and spiritual upbringing.”
Peroni adds that when parents see a program that is at odds with their beliefs and desires for their children, their judgement should be respected and they should be permitted to have their children exempted from the program.
“The court decision has put an unreasonable burden on parents to prove that the course is harmful,” she says.
Peroni adds that CCSTA was proud to demonstrate its support to the parents and their children.
“Although we lost this decision, it was critical that CCSTA was part of the coalition that intervened in this case in support of the principle of parental rights,” she says.