In an important victory for religious liberty in Canada, the country’s Supreme Court ruled unanimously today that the government cannot force a private Catholic high school to teach a government-mandated ethics and religion course that includes teaching contrary to Catholic belief.
An attorney working with the Alliance Defending Freedom International filed a brief last year with the high court in defense of the school after the court granted them the right to intervene in defense of the school’s freedom of religion and conscience. Commenting on the decision, Alliance Defending Freedom notes:
“This decision means that faith-based schools are free to operate according to the faith they teach and espouse,” said Gerald Chipeur, Q.C., of the Canadian firm Miller Thompson LLP, one of more than 2,500 private attorneys allied with ADF International. “This ruling makes clear that the government is on dangerous ground if it seeks to force a private organization to act in a manner completely contrary to its deepest faith convictions.”
The school did not ask to be exempt from teaching the mandated class but only to teach Catholic ethics from a Catholic perspective. In its judgment in the case, Loyola High School v. Attorney General of Quebec, the Supreme Court ruled that the state could not interfere with that freedom and struck down the decision of the Quebec government.
“The [Quebec] minister’s decision had a serious impact on religious freedom…,” the court wrote. “To tell a Catholic school how to explain its faith undermines the liberty of the members of its community who have chosen to give effect to the collective dimension of their religious beliefs by participating in a denominational school.”
“The government cannot require a private, religious school to tell its students that their faith is no more valid than a myriad of other, conflicting faith traditions,” said ADF International Executive Director Benjamin Bull. “All faith-based organizations must be free to speak and act consistently with their faith, or religious freedom is not at all free.”
In July 2008, the Quebec government introduced the class, “Ethics and Religious Culture,” and required it to be taught in all public and private schools. The course presents all religions, including Wicca and pagan rites, as equally valid. The government also prohibited teachers from expressing a preference for any particular faith – even at private, religious schools.
The Jesuits, a Roman Catholic order founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola, runs Loyola High School. The school provides education that is publicly faithful to the authoritative teachings of the Catholic Church.
Catholic education has played a major role in the development of Western nations, yet it is in many places in crisis. To bring about renewal, it is necessary to revisit the subject with an eye to fundamental questions. What is the purpose of education? What is distinctive about Catholic education? What is the right relationship between schools, parents, Church, and society?