Supreme Court should support Quebec religion and ethics class

There’s nothing wrong with teaching basic facts about diversity to children

The Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments on Wednesday about whether the parents of school children in Quebec should have the right to pull their kids out of mandatory classes, if they disagree with the content.

At issue is the province’s “Ethics and Religious Culture” course, which is taught at both the elementary and secondary levels. The course is intended to help children “develop an awareness” of the growing diversity in Quebec society.

According to the course curriculum, “students will be encouraged to engage in critical reflection on ethical questions and to understand the phenomenon of religion by practising, in a spirit of openness, dialogue that is oriented toward contributing to community life.”

But some parents don’t like it.

One Catholic couple, who cannot be identified because of a publication ban, sued to have their children exempted from the class. The Quebec Superior Court rejected their arguments and the Court of Appeals dismissed their appeal of that decision. They’re now challenging the Court of Appeals’ decision at the Supreme Court.

According to the Supreme Court’s case summary, the parents have a problem with 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.”

Yes, that’s right, these parents don’t want their children to know that some members of our society have different beliefs than they do.

But most Quebecers no longer live in parochial ghettos, most likely the children in question have already encountered children from different backgrounds, who are being raised in different religious traditions, either in the classroom or on the playground.

There’s no problem with parents teaching their children their religious views. There’s also nothing stopping religious schools from teaching explicitly faith-based classes.

But at the same time, I see no problem with the state insisting that schools teach that most basic of Canadian values: that in our society all of us are considered equal.

As Supreme Court Justice Louis LeBel put it, “Is there anything wrong with trying to teach open mindedness to students, to make that a behaviour or an attitude?

In Canada, there shouldn’t be.

The parents’ lawyers have claimed that the course will destroy pluralism in Quebec. I’m not quite sure how teaching children that pluralism exists in a diverse society will lead to that outcome.

Part of the problem is that there seems to be a lot of misinformation going around about what the course actually teaches and some of it seems to be rather deliberate.

National Post columnist, Barbara Kay claims that children will be taught that “that Christianity and pagan Animism and tinfoil-hat science fiction are equally true and equally conducive to a life of morality and spiritual vigour.”

But that’s not what the curriculum says. In fact, the course gives prominence to Christian traditions because of the “historical and cultural importance of Catholicism and Protestantism.” It also focuses on Judaism and Aboriginal spiritual traditions because of their long histories in Quebec. The only other religions mentioned by uname in the curriculum are Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Orthodox Christianity, though there is some time set aside for “other religions” and “other forms of expression.”

What worries me most is the precedent that a victory by these parents could set. What comes next? Will parents be able to pull their children out of science classes because they don’t want them exposed to the theory of evolution? What if a parent doesn’t like what’s taught in a history class?

Canada is a diverse society and there’s nothing wrong with teaching basic facts about the people who live in this country to children.

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