Daily Dispatches
Supreme Court of Canada
ADF
Supreme Court of Canada

Canadian teachers fight government’s religious gag order

Religious Liberty

A Canadian private school wants the right to modify a curriculum that requires all religions, including Wicca and paganism, to be taught as “equally valid,” World Net Daily reports. The school says the government-mandated curriculum infringes on its religious rights.

Quebec province adopted a mandatory “Ethics and Religious Culture” curriculum in 2008 for all public and private schools, impacting Christian, Sikh, Muslim, and other institutions. Loyola High School, run by Jesuits, began challenging the law in 2008 because it conflicts with Catholic teachings. The school wants to teach students in a way consistent with Catholicism.

Religious schools, groups, civil liberties organizations, and homeschool defense groups support Loyola, including the Seventh Day Adventist Church of Canada, whose lawyer filed an intervener brief March 10 after the court granted other denominations that right in January.

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Gerald Chipeur, an attorney allied with the U.S.-based Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), recently filed with the Supreme Court of Canada and said the case will be heard March 24. Chipeur said 11 interveners are supporting Loyola, including his client.

The curriculum’s content isn’t the problem, Chipeur said. Schools are concerned about the “gag order that has been imposed by the Government of Quebec upon Christian teachers,” Chipeur said. He explained that teachers cannot answer questions from their own religious perspective, instead they must remain neutral.

Chipeur’s legal brief said that by nature a religious school “precludes teachers and administrators from abandoning their faith for one class or one hour during the school day, without fundamentally changing the character of the school. The Supreme Court of Canada has specifically recognized this reality in connection with Catholic schools.”

Brett Harvey, a lawyer with ADF, said in a press release, “All faith-based institutions must be free to speak and act consistently with their faith.”

The government’s involvement in education is the most concerning issue of religious freedom in Canada, according to Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs.

In February 2012, Canada’s Supreme Court ruled against one Quebec couple who sued for the right to remove their son from the “Ethics and Religious Culture” class. The court said being forced to attend the class did not infringe on the parents’ religious rights, CBC News reported.

“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 Marie Deschamps wrote in that decision, according to the National Post.

When asked about the previous ruling, Chipeur said, “Of course, we are concerned about the decision of the Court in the earlier case. However, the issues are very different. It is very difficult to argue that a parent or student's religious freedom is infringed by what is not said. On the other hand, it should be very easy to establish that a rule censoring the speech of teachers infringes the religious freedom of the teachers and of all those who desire to hear what the teachers have to say.”

Julia A. Seymour
Julia A. Seymour

Julia has worked as a writer in the Washington, D.C., area since 2005 and was a fall 2012 participant in a World Journalism Institute mid-career class conducted by WORLD editor in chief Marvin Olasky in Asheville, N.C. Follow Julia on Twitter @SteakandaBible.

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