OTTAWA - A private Catholic school in Montreal has been told they have partial freedom of religion after a Supreme Court ruling said the school must still teach other religions in a way the school says violates their faith and Charter rights.
Loyola High School, an English speaking private school in Montreal, went to court seeking an injunction from teaching the provincial Ethics and Religious Culture introduced in 2008. The program seeks to instruct children on various religious beliefs and practices but requires all religions to be treated in the same manner.
Parents and teachers at Loyola argued that teaching Catholicism and other religions as all being equally valid and true, inside a Catholic school, would undermine Catholic teaching and prevent the school from fully professing their faith.
The court ruled unanimously that requiring a Catholic school to teach Catholicism from a neutral and secular perspective was a violation of the freedom of religion because it, “interferes with the rights of parents to transmit the Catholic faith to their children, not because it requires neutral discussion of other faiths and ethical systems, but because it prevents a Catholic discussion of Catholicism.”
The ruling means the school gets a partial win in its fight with the Quebec ministry of education.
When teaching other religions however the court split 4-3 and ruled that the private school must instruct students from a neutral rather than a Catholic perspective.
“To ask a religious school’s teachers to discuss other religions and their ethical beliefs as objectively as possible does not seriously harm the values underlying religious freedom,” Justice Abella wrote for the majority.
Yet the school had argued that teaching the beliefs and ethics of other religions without the ability to explain nuances from a Catholic perspective was a violation of the school’s religious freedom, a viewpoint the minority agreed with.
“Requiring Loyola’s teachers to maintain a neutral posture on ethical questions poses serious practical difficulties and represents a significant infringement on how Loyola transmits an understanding of the Catholic faith,” the minority decision reads.
“It is inevitable that ethical standards that do not comport with Catholic beliefs will be raised for discussion. Faced with a position that is fundamentally at odds with the Catholic faith, Loyola’s teachers would be coerced into adopting a false and facile posture of neutrality.”
The majority on this decision was comprised of justices Abella, LeBel, Cromwell and Karakatsanis. The minority ruling was supported by Chief Justice McLachlin as well as justices Moldaver and Rothstein.
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