Quebec court vetoes religious education exemptions
DRUMMONDVILLE, QC—Just as classes were resuming across the province, one Quebec family received the disappointing news that Quebec superior court judge Jean-Guy Dubois had refused to grant their son an exemption from compulsory attendance in the controversial new religious education course now beginning its second year.
In the judgment handed down September 1, Dubois stated that contrary to the petitioning parents' claims, the course's general summary overview of seven religions did not contravene the provincial charter of rights and freedoms.
"The court does not see how the course infringes upon the freedom of conscience or religion of the parents or of their children," the judge wrote, "since it presents overviews of various religions without obligating children to adopt them."
Not surprisingly, Josée Bouchard, president of the Quebec federation of school boards whose members have collectively received and rejected more than 1,740 requests for exemptions from the course, expressed the group's satisfaction with the decision.
But a coalition of parents who oppose the religion course disagrees. "We were petitioning for the respect of the rights of all citizens, whether they be believers or atheists," says group Marie-Josée Croteau, president of the Coalition for Freedom in Education.
"Courts are apparently now qualified to evaluate the sincerity of the religious or philosophic beliefs of a petitioner," says coalition spokesperson Richard Décarie. "The state has no basis on which to act as a referee in matters of religion."
Suzanne Lavallée and Daniel Jutras, the Drummondville parents who were petitioning in favour of their son's rights, are disappointed. While they would like to appeal the court's decision, they don't have the money and are considering launching a request for outside support.
The coalition's legal team has been working with the couple and is studying the judge's written statement. They are expected to make a decision about their participation in an appeal in the days ahead.
Two other related decisions are pending before the courts. A couple in Granby is contesting the suspension of their son from school for his refusal to attend the course and a Catholic private school in Montreal is petitioning the courts to affirm their right to determine what is to be taught in its religious education classes.
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