Supreme Court rules for Loyola

By P.A.Sévigny

Last week, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) ruled that the Quebec’s Education Ministry (MEQ) violated Loyola High School’s religious freedom after it insisted that the Catholic school must teach the province’s own Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC) program. While the school will continue to respect the province’s curriculum, SCC’s decision will now permit the school to provide its students with an ERC course that will be taught through and from a Catholic perspective.

“The Ethics and Religious Culture program was conceived as a way to teach students to recognize the value of others and the pursuit of the common good,” said former Loyola Principal Paul Donovan, after he learned about the SCC decision.”These are laudable goals that we share and wish to inculcate in our students. However, we do not believe that religious values in the context of our school need to be suppressed to accomplish this.”

Based upon the SCC ruling, four of the seven judges agreed with the school’s position that the religious freedom of its student community must be protected.

“A secular state respects religious differences,” wrote Madame Justice Rosalie Abella. “It does not seek to extinguish them.”

However, in a minority opinion written by Chief Justice Beverley McLaughlin, three of the judges do not believe that the majority struck the right balance between the need to protect the freedom of religion and the corresponding need to follow the law.

As originally adopted by the province’s MEQ in 2008, teachers throughout the province were instructed to adopt a neutral and objective approach to the program’s content that included a comprehensive and comparative investigation of all the world’s great religions along with a working dialogue about the value of ethics and assorted moral codes that defined the world’s different religions.

Although Loyola was willing to teach the course as part of its curriculum, the school and the parent of a former student insisted that the program’s content be taught within the parameters of the school’s own Catholic faith, its history and its belief.
It took seven years from the time that the school took its argument to the SCC before its case was finally heard.

While four of the seven Supreme Court justices agreed that the MEQ’s refusal to allow the school to maintain its own faith-based perspective (within the MEQ’s own ERC program) violated the school and its students’ right to religious freedom, all seven were unanimous that Loyola must continue to include a neutral and objective study of comparative religions in much the same way as the ERC program was taught prior to the SCC decision.
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