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December 23, 2013

Homeschool Freedom under Fire in Québec

A case involving a Catholic high school in Montreal threatens homeschooling freedom in the entire country. It also reveals the dangers of the idea that the government should be in the business of telling parents how their children should be educated.

A private Catholic high school in Montreal was told that it may not teach a religion and ethics course from, of all things, its own religious perspective.


Why even have a religious school at all then? Isn't Canada supposed to be a pluralistic society where diversity and tolerance are highly regarded? Yes, unless you are a Catholic school trying to teach from a Catholic perspective.

The case has been appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, and a negative ruling would threaten the right of all parents to teach children in accordance with their religious beliefs. The idea that parents—not governments—should decide how and what children are taught regarding values and religion is enshrined in fundamental notions of basic human freedom. Children are not the mere creatures of the state, and this idea has been uniformly held up as a vital human rights norm all over the world.

Paul Faris of the Home School Legal Defence Association (HSLDA) of Canada explains, “If this ruling stands, it undermines the very foundations that protects homeschooling. Whatever the court decides will apply to everyone right across the country. A loss could seriously restrict homeschooling freedom.”

Every school, including homeschools, is required to include a program called “Ethics and Religious Culture” (ERC) in their curriculum. In 2008, the Québec government passed rules that prohibit instructors from expressing any opinion regarding religious or ethical questions. That makes sense in a secular school where parents are forced to send their children and where many diverse beliefs come together. But telling a Catholic school it can’t teach ethics and religion from a Catholic perspective?

The Catholics weren't even asking to change the materials or subject matter, they just wanted their Catholic teachers to be able to teach it from a Catholic perspective. Faris explained how this law has already caused problems.

“This curriculum has already seriously threatened the freedom of parents to teach their children in accordance with their religious beliefs,” states Faris. “The Supreme Court previously ruled in a case in 2012 that the government could force students in public schools to attend the course. If the court rules against freedom of religion in this private school case, it will mean that homeschoolers will be the only ones left. Not only will this mean more pressure on us and a likely court challenge, but if the Supreme Court has already ruled against freedom of religion in two similar cases, they will be unlikely to rule in its favor for us.”

The Canadian Charter of Right and Freedoms, part of the Canadian Constitution, states that everyone has the fundamental freedoms of conscience and religion. In 2005, however, the Québec legislature modified its Charter of Rights and Freedoms to allow the government to impose this curriculum. Government officials have used this change to attempt to usurp the primary responsibility of parents to direct the religious and moral instruction of their children.

HSLDA’s Attorney for International Affairs, Michael Donnelly, expressed great concern about this case and the trend it reveals.

“The trend in recent years to restrict homeschooling in Québec is extremely concerning,” Donnelly said, “particularly light of this case. Freedom of religion in Canada is essential for homeschoolers in Canada. If this case is lost, the right to homeschool will be called into question for all of Canada.”

Cardus Daily explained that the case had the potential to have a profound impact on the freedom of parents to teach their children according to their beliefs.

HSLDA of Canada has sought to intervene in the case. Faris hopes to be able to submit written and oral arguments in the case. Oral arguments are expected to occur in March 2014, with a decision from the court in the summer or fall.

Michael Smith, president of HSLDA and a Board Member of HSLDA of Canada, asks HSLDA members and friends to support Canadian homeschoolers in prayer.

“Our brothers and sisters in Canada have asked for wisdom and favor in the eyes of the court,” said Smith. “This case reminds us that the freedom to homeschool is under attack not only in places such as Germany, but on our own continent as well. Please pray that HSLDA of Canada will be allowed to intervene in the case in order to argue the impact that a negative decision will have on homeschooling in Canada.”

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Learn More

Visit the HSLDA of Canada website.

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