TORONTO — Canada’s highest court has ruled that children in Quebec schools cannot opt out of a course on ethics and world religions.
The Supreme Court on Feb. 17 unanimously rejected an appeal from Catholic parents who sought to keep their children out of the course because they felt that exposing them to a variety of religions would confuse them.
The nine high court judges disagreed, saying that exposing children to beliefs and values that differ from their own is a fact of life in Canada’s multicultural society.
“The early exposure of children to realities that differ from those in their immediate family environment is a fact of life in society,” the court ruled.
Simply teaching children other religions “does not constitute an
indoctrination of students that would infringe on the (parents’) freedom of religion,” the court found.
Two of the nine Supreme Court justices noted that while the teaching methods and content of the course are “sketchy,” the parents had not made their case.
The mandatory course on ethics and religious culture is seen as part of Quebec’s ongoing march toward secularism. It covers many world religions but from a cultural perspective.
When it was established in 2008, some Catholic parents objected, claiming their children would be confused by contact with beliefs that were mostly incompatible with what they learned at home and at church.
Parents also argued that the classes infringed on their freedom of conscience and religion under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Supreme Court decision upheld two lower court rulings that dismissed the parents’ claim.
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