Five things to know about upcoming Supreme Court ruling on Quebec’s mandatory religion course

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MONTREAL – A six-year legal battle over Quebec’s compulsory Ethics and Religious Culture course will be decided Thursday morning when the Supreme Court of Canada is expected to release its decision in the case. Loyola High School went to court in September 2008 when the mandatory course, which examines world religions and ethics from a secular perspective, was introduced to Quebec’s schools. The Montreal Gazette‘s Brenda Branswell reviews the case to date:

What the course covers

The recognition of others and the pursuit of the common good are the two main goals of the Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC) course. Another aim, according to the government, is to help promote harmonious social relations in Quebec society. The ERC course replaced three previous options available to students: Moral Education; Catholic Religious and Moral Instruction; and Protestant Moral and Religious Education.

Request for exemption

Loyola, a private Catholic boys school in Montreal, took legal action after Quebec’s ministry of education rejected its request to be exempt from teaching the course.  The Jesuit school sought a court-ordered exemption, provided it taught its own program. Loyola won in Quebec Superior Court, but the decision was overturned by the Quebec Court of Appeal. With the case before the courts, Loyola has been teaching what it proposed as an equivalent course.

Loyola’s argument

“We said we would teach all the same content [as the ERC course],” said Loyola’s former principal, Paul Donovan, who is currently on sabbatical. “We said we would teach the competencies and the goals that they have — all of that stuff. We just didn’t want to have to suppress or hold back the Catholic nature of the school. And the way the ERC is written and set up we would have to do that.” Private religious schools can still teach their own faiths, but that instruction is in addition to and separate from the ERC course.

Government’s argument

The Quebec ministry of education has maintained that Loyola’s substitute course isn’t an equivalent course. The attorney general of Quebec has also argued that Loyola doesn’t have religious freedom because it’s an institution and religious freedom only belongs to an individual, Mr. Donovan said.

“So the other main issue that’s sort of in there is the argument of whether or not faith-based institutions do have religious freedom,” he said. “And that’s something that will be addressed by the court as well.” Eleven groups had intervenor status in the Supreme Court case, including the Archdiocese of Montreal, he said.

What’s next?

The Supreme Court’s decision is expected to be announced at 9:45 Thursday. “It’s really our hope that regardless of whether we win or we lose, that we continue to work with the ministry of education,” Mr. Donovan said. “And our hope is that, regardless, this becomes an opportunity for us to talk. So if we win, we want to be able to talk with them to make sure that they’re going to be comfortable with what we’re doing and hopefully that extends the other way as well.”

Read the original article here.