The Supreme Court of Canada, Alex Guibord (Flickr CC)

Supreme Court affirms religious freedom in Quebec school

Canada’s top courts rule in favour of Loyola High School

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of Loyola High School March 19, reversing Quebec’s refusal to exempt the Jesuit-run school from teaching the province’s ethics and religious culture program from a non-religious perspective.

“Today's Supreme Court decision in Loyola is a strong affirmation of religious freedom and fair balancing of the interests of the province in setting curriculum outcomes while defending the freedom of religious schools to teach the curriculum from their unique religious perspective,” EFC President Bruce Clemenger says in a release. The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) was an intervener in this case.

The Quebec Ministry of Education required the course be taught starting in the fall of 2008, but from a non-religious perspective. However, the school requested an exemption as Loyola already taught a similar course from a Roman Catholic view, which Quebec denied.

“The EFC is pleased to see the Court affirm ‘that an essential ingredient of the vitality of a religious community is the ability of its members to pass on their beliefs to their children, whether through instruction in the home or participation in communal institutions’,” Clemenger says. “The blanket refusal of Quebec to allow exemptions and to compel religious schools to teach curriculum in a way that violated their religious beliefs has been found unconstitutional.”

The court ruled that:

  • Requiring Loyola to teach Catholic doctrine and ethical beliefs from a neutral perspective violated the religious freedom of the members of its community.
  • “Respect, tolerance and understanding are all required … however, ensuring that all viewpoints are regarded as equally credible or worthy of belief would require a degree of disconnect from, and suppression of, Loyola’s own religious perspective and that is incompatible with freedom of religion.”
  • “A secular state respects religious differences, it does not seek to extinguish them.”

Although the majority opinion didn’t directly rule on communal religious rights, the minority wrote:

  • “The individual and collective aspects of freedom of religion are indissolubly intertwined.”
  • “The communal character of religion means that protecting the religious freedom of individuals requires protecting the religious freedom of religious organizations, including religious educational bodies such as Loyola.”

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