S.L. v. Commission scolaire des Chênes (hereafter, the "Drummondville" case), a case originating in Quebec, will address the issue of whether parents have the right to choose the kind of education their children will receive, particularly in regard to religious instruction. The case will cut to the core of what freedom of religion and conscience and parental authority mean in Canada.
At issue is the Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC) program, a mandatory course which must be taught to all québécois children. The course has as its objective the instruction of children in a manner that will promote “the development of attitudes of tolerance, respect and openness”, thus “preparing them to live in a pluralist and democratic society.” The course is not a graduation requirement.
The perspective of many parents and the position of the mother in this case is that parents have and wish to retain the right to teach morality and religion to their children from their perspective, or decide who will do so on their behalf. The right to pass on one’s religious and cultural heritage to their children is a fundamental aspect of religious freedom and parental authority in Canada.
The parents in this case requested that their children be exempt from participation in the ERC program. The request was turned down by the school (as was every similar request made in the province of Quebec).
After following the appropriate appeal route at the school board level, the parents sought a judgement from the Superior Court of Quebec as to whether the mandatory nature of the ERC program violated their freedom of conscience and religion as protected by the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They also asked the court to address some administrative law issues relating to statements that the Minister of Education made in a press conference – that children could not be exempted from participating in the ERC program.
While the Court found that the parents and children were sincere believers in their Catholic faith, it ruled that the ERC program did not violate their freedoms of religion and conscience. It also ruled that the parents were unable to satisfy the court that their children would suffer harm as a result of being required to attend this program, therefore they would not qualify for an exemption.
The result of this decision communicates that the state may impose a curriculum that conflicts with the moral codes parents wish to instil in their children and that parents do not have ultimate authority over the moral and religious education of their children.
The Quebec Court of Appeal refused to hear the parents’ request to appeal the decision of the lower court, but the Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear it in May 2011.
Update: On February 17, 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada rendered its decision in the case. Read our media release here. Additional commentary can be found below.
- Factum of the Intervenor, The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, as submitted to the Supreme Court of Canada (Document includes both an English language and a French language version of the Factum)