Sunday, March 25, 2012

Compulsory Ethics and Religions Course


The types of 19th and 20th century cases concerning religious classes we are discussing in class, are currently making their way through Canadian courts. A school in Drummondsville, Quebec decided to replace former Catholic and Protestant religious courses with an Ethics and Religions class in their curriculum. The course teaches several world religions and ethics tied to the faiths. A case was filed by a couple from central Quebec who wanted to remove their child from the required Religion and Ethics course. “They claimed the class violated their freedom of religion by forcing their child to be exposed to religious beliefs that were different from the family's.” A unanimous Supreme Court verdict upheld the lower court decisions to refuse the parents from exempting their child out of the class because they were unable to prove that their religious rights were infringed. The mother, known by her initials S.L., said  such classes shouldn’t be required at such a young age because it really weakens the foundation parents try to build in order to indoctrinate their children in their own faith. About 1,600 requests for exemptions were filed when this course was first introduced, and the number has decreased to 50 since then. The parents who filed this suit and their lawyer have clearly expressed that although they have lost this case due to the lack of evidence, this ruling leaves the door open for future challenges against the course.
Because this in an international case, to discuss the salient issue in this case, we must know how Canadian law considers religion. Canadian law in general, and Quebec law specifically, have moved to a more neutral existence of religion in government regulated places, like schools. Quebec in 1997, was constitutionally exempted from providing funding to religious based schools. In 2000, Catholic and Protestant religious education classes along with nonreligious moral education classes continued to be part of the curriculum in public schools. The main public schools network offers the choice between moral or religious education. Since 2008, The ERC(ethics and religious culture) course  eliminated the choice in moral or religious education in public and private schools. The ERC has become compulsory and several cases have been raised due to its controversial nature, this one being one of them.
Seeing the history of the Quebec law, it is only natural that this ERC course would cause controversy. This change is so recent that these types of cases will challenge this installation. Since most schools had the choice between moral and religion education, most schools operated with a curriculum with protestant and catholic religion education courses along with traditional education. The ethics and religious culture teaches about religion rather than teaching religion, which was prevalent prior to the ERC course. Christian majority took for granted the presence of Christian religious classes offered in school, but after the change, it has become clearly unconstitutional to allow such classes in the school. Quite frankly, I agree with court that the parents have been unable to prove how this ERC course is an infringement on their religious rights. In fact, this ERC course has allowed free exercise for students of all faiths. Allowing religious education in school infringes upon the rights of those students who don’t follow that same faith. To allow all students a fair opportunity for free exercise, religion should exist in public places in a strictly academic form. If this case was being decided in the US Supreme Court, they would definitely refer back to the Schempp case which sets up the 3 basic principles to govern religion in public schools. The ERC course isn’t promoting religion in schools, instead the former Christian classes was guilty of this principle. I don’t think the ERC course has any influence on the students as to keep them from initiating religious practices on their own. The ERC course allows schools to satisfy the third principle which states that they can teach about religion but not religion itself. Therefore, the US Supreme Court would rule the same way the Canadian courts did on this matter.

7 comments:

kathryn y. said...

Terrific job of bringing in the three prongs of the Lemon Test. I agree that the the U.S. Supreme Court would pull from the Lemon test, where my fear lies is that in someway, there would be, as Justice Scalia stated in the Louisiana case, that there is too much flexibility allowed for through the Lemon Test. While the court may rule that there are secular reasonings for teaching about religion in school, parents of children might disagree with this and continue to push back. While I want to believe that the Supreme Court would be consistent in their decisions, I fear that because of blurry lines continuing to be drawn between church and state, there might be a varied decision regarding such an educational course.

Angela S. said...

My big question is concerning the age of the children. The article makes it sound like all children are being taught this class including the plaintiff’s son who is in the 4th grade. What I wonder is if children that young can distinguish between being taught about religion and being taught religion. I’m not a parent so I don’t have the answer to that question, but it’s the one concern that I have. For older children I certainly see no issue with the class.

Emrah K said...

How can a teacher explain ethic and morality without touching on a religion? This problem has been discussed by scholars still but there is not a solution yet. Also if morality is taught to children without religion, is not it to discredit religions because at least major religions of the world are based on awarding both in the life and the afterlife for those who are moral? Therefore, I think if there is not any religious or moral course on public schools, it is better and closer to neutrality rather than teaching a moral course without teaching religion.

Calli W. said...

I think it is great that these kids are learning about different religions. Religion and history go hand in hand. Without religion, you would lose a fundamental part in all history. Religion has had a pivotal influence on history from the spread of Christianity throughout Rome, the crusades, etc. It's not just a matter of teaching tolerance it's about an important part of learning the history of humanity. I also think it's a good idea to expose children to different beliefs younger, because younger kids are so much more open to different ideas and I feel they aren't going to be completely biased against them once they grow up.

Amber P. said...

I agree with Calli. Religion is a part of history and present day. It is hard to separate life from religion because it so heavily influences so many people. Through learning about different religions, morals, and ethics, the students will become tolerant and accepting of people and ideas they do not understand or that are different. I believe the ERC class will broaden their education and world view, and in turn make the students more well rounded. As stated in the post, "the ERC course isn't promoting religion in school", it is merely teaching them; there is a difference!

David O. said...

I too believe the Canadian Courts made the right decision. As Amber and Calli said, Religion is a major aspect of history. One thing that interests me is the ERC itself. Even if it is being taught to 4th graders, the nature of such a class, that early in primary education is probably not touching on concepts that would undermine any parental indoctrination. Furthermore, the fact that the child in question is attending a public school, the parent’s expectation that their child will not be exposed to beliefs different from their own is obtuse.

jacobr said...

I agree with many aspect of the blogger comments on this subject. Religion and Education are two important subjects that requires the upmost care and attention regardless of the government and population.