Judge: Quebec Gvmt ‘Totalitarian’ in Imposing Relativism Course



June 22, 2010

By Patrick B. Craine MONTREAL, Quebec, June 21, 2010 ( – The Quebec Ministry of Education’s decision to impose their course in moral and religious relativism on Montreal’s Loyola High School assumed “a totalitarian character essentially equivalent to Galileo’s being ordered by the Inquisition to deny the Copernican universe,” said the Quebec Superior Court in a strongly-worded ruling released Friday.

Justice Gérard Dugré ruled that the Ministry’s attempt to force Loyola, a private Catholic boys’ school in the Jesuit tradition, to teach the strictly secular course, entitled Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC), violated their freedom of religion under the Quebec Charter of Rights.

The ERC program was mandated at the beginning of the 2008-2009 school year for all students, and spans from grade one to the end of high school.  Claiming to take a “neutral” stance, the curriculum covers a spectrum of world religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and aboriginal spirituality, as well as pseudo-religions such as atheism.

It has been criticized for its approach to moral issues, teaching even at the earliest grades, for instance, that homosexuality is a normal choice for family life.

Loyola has taught world religions for decades, so when the highly-controversial course was first imposed, they sought permission from the Ministry to teach the mandatory curriculum from a Catholic perspective.  But the Ministry refused, stating that Loyola’s course was not equivalent because it was faith-based rather than secular, and thus manifested a religious bias.

Loyola responded by taking the Ministry to court. They presented their case before the Superior Court in June 2009.

“Canadian democratic society is based on principles recognizing the supremacy of God and the primacy of the law – both of which benefit from constitutional protection,” wrote Justice Dugré in the 63-page ruling.  “In this age of the respect of fundamental rights, of tolerance, reasonable accommodation and multiculturalism, the attitude adopted by [Education Minister Michelle Courchesne], is surprising.”

Commentators have noted that Justice Dugré’s decision is at odds with the August decision of the Superior Court in the case of a Drummondville family that sought an exemption from the course.  In that case, Justice Jean-Guy Dubois had ruled that the family’s freedom of religion was not violated because the course “provides an overall presentation of various religions without obliging the children to adhere to them.”

Jean Morse-Chevrier, president of l’Association des parents catholiques du Québec (APCQ), pointed out that in that case the judge had deemed the course to be in harmony with Catholic teaching based on the testimony of Laval theologian Fr. Gilles Routhier.

But in this case, she said, the judge relied heavily on the testimony of Dr. Douglas Farrow, a theologian and professor in religion and politics at McGill University.  Based on Dr. Farrow’s testimony, “the judge recognized that this course is in contradiction with Catholic teaching,” she said, due to its “relativistic approach to moral questions.”

The Drummondville case was rejected by the Quebec Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court of Canada is currently deciding whether to hear the case.

Education Minister Michelle Courchesne has called the Friday ruling “excessive.” At a press conference Monday, Premier Jean Charest announced that the Quebec government will appeal.  “It seems clear that the government will appeal,” he said.  “This is a very serious issue that has been debated for a long time.”

Richard Decarie, a spokesman for the Coalition pour la Liberté en Éducation, called for the Ministry to abandon the course’s compulsory nature, and argued that the ruling should mean all parents will be granted the choice to exempt their children from it.  With this ruling, “it is impossible to continue giving the course the way it is,” he said. “They cannot accept to suspend the compulsory side of the course in Loyola, a private school, and not in public schools.”

Decarie noted that he was struck by the strength of the judge’s rhetoric, particularly Dugré’s description of the Ministry’s actions as “totalitarian,” a word the coalition has been criticized for employing in the past.  He noted, in fact, that the judge went even further in the comparison to the Spanish Inquisition.

“This judgment marks a great victory for democracy in education, for the liberty of conscience and religion, for school liberty and for parental rights,” said Marie Bourque, vice president and spokesperson for the APCQ.

Morse-Chevrier said the ruling is “very good news,” but cautioned that it applies to Loyola’s particular situation, where the school had already developed an equivalent course in world religions.  While such an equivalent might be acceptable to parents of high school students, she said, parents of primary students might not be as willing for their children to be learning about other faiths and other moral choices, even if done so within the faith context.

“Our position is that parents should have the choice of a course that is in accordance with their beliefs,” she emphasized.

Find the ruling here (in French).

See related coverage:

Quebec Parents to Take Mandatory Relativistic Ethics Course to Supreme Court

Quebec Family’s Appeal Rejected for Exemption from Mandatory Relativism Course

Quebec Judge Denies Families Religious Exemption From Mandatory School Course in Relativism

Quebec Court Hears Jesuit School Case against Quebec’s Mandatory Religion Course

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