Supreme Court

Constitutional Law

Charter of Rights
Preventing school from teaching Catholicism from own perspective seriously interferes with religious freedom

Private Catholic high school, has, as part of mandatory core curriculum, required program on Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC).  ERC, with stated objectives of “recognition of others” and “pursuit of the common good,” teaches beliefs and ethics of different world religions from neutral, objective perspective. Minister of Education, Recreation and Sports may, pursuant to s. 22 of regulation respecting the application of the act respecting private education (Que.), grant exemption from ERC program if proposed alternative program deemed to be “equivalent.” School requested exemption, proposing alternative course be taught from perspective of Catholic beliefs and ethics. Minister denied request. School application for judicial review of minister’s decision granted. Superior Court held that minister’s refusal infringed school’s right to religious freedom. Quebec Court of Appeal allowed Quebec’s appeal, finding minister’s decision reasonable. School appealed, modifying its proposal by agreeing to teach doctrines and practices of other world religions neutrally but teaching about ethics of other religions from Catholic perspective. Minister’s position, that no part of program could be taught from Catholic perspective, remained same. Appeal allowed. Case required balancing between robust protection for values underlying religious freedom with values of secular state. Requiring school to speak about its own religion in terms defined by state rather than own understanding demonstrably interferes with manner in which community can teach and learn about Catholic faith and undermines liberty of those who have chosen to give effect to collective dimension of religious beliefs by participating in denominational school. Preventing school from teaching and discussing Catholicism from own perspective does little to further ERC program’s objectives, but seriously interferes with religious freedom. Engagement with individual’s own religion on own terms cannot be presumed to impair respect for others. It is not breach of religious freedom to require school to teach about ethics of other religions from neutral perspective. Program goals of ensuring respect for different religious beliefs requires students to learn about doctrines and ethics of other world religions in neutral and respectful way. Given that minister’s decision as whole must reflect proportionate balancing of protections from Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and statutory objectives, minister’s decision is unreasonable.

Loyola High School v. Quebec (Attorney General) (Mar. 19, 2015, S.C.C., McLachlin C.J.C., LeBel J., Abella J., Rothstein J., Cromwell J., Moldaver J., and Karakatsanis J., File No. 35201) Decision at 234 A.C.W.S. (3d) 338 was reversed.  250 A.C.W.S. (3d) 248.

Law Times Poll

A group of benchers opposed to the Statement of Principles will need to win the support of their colleagues to repeal the requirement. Do you think they will be successful in repealing the statement of principles in the coming year?