Loyola High School asks the Supreme Court to hear the case
MONTREAL, Feb. 4, 2013 /CNW Telbec/ - The Board of Governors of Loyola
High School ("Loyola") today announced its decision to appeal the
December 4th judgment by Québec's Court of Appeal, which overturned the 2010
Superior Court ruling in its favor, in the case involving the Ministry
of Education, Leisure and Sport ("MELS"), regarding the Ethics and
Religious Culture program ("ERC").
The decision of the Court of Appeal has, in effect, raised fundamental
issues that, in Loyola's estimation, address some of the core values of
our Québec and Canadian societies. It is for this reason that the Board
of Governors, with the support of the Jesuit Board of Directors, has
decided to pursue the matter and ask the Supreme Court of Canada to
hear the case.
In 2008, the MELS introduced its ERC course. Loyola did not object to
the program's goals. "Loyola has long promoted an intelligent respect for, and appreciation
of, the world's religions. In fact, at Loyola, 'World Religions' has
been offered as a course in itself, or been a major component of a
'Religion' course, since 1975," argues Fr. Robert Brennan S.J., former President and Chaplain and
current teacher at the school.
Despite significant reservations about the ERC course's ability to
achieve its own, stated goals, it was hoped that it would at least
promote some type of religious literacy and allow for a better
"dialogue de société". However, as a Catholic, Jesuit high school,
Loyola believed that there was a value-added dimension to teaching a
course of this nature from a "confessional" perspective. "Teaching another belief system from a confessional perspective − in our
instance, a Catholic one − engages belief and when belief is engaged,
it gives an account of who we are and what matters to others. This
provides the opportunity for life to grow, for society to evolve and
for depth and openness to emerge. It creates a fire that kindles other
fires," adds Fr. Michael Murray S.J., President of Loyola High School.
The background of the case
Following a procedure provided for by law, Loyola applied for an
exemption from the course in March of 2008, asking that the Minister
allow the school to teach all of the competencies, content and goals of
the program using a structure and methodology that was more in keeping
with its Jesuit and Catholic identity. The Minister refused to grant
the exemption and informed Loyola that the competencies, content and
goals of the program could not be taught according to ministerial
expectations in a Catholic (i.e., confessional) context.
As it was unable to engage in a dialogue about the exemption with the
Minister, Loyola decided to take the matter to the Quebec Superior
Court. From June 8 to 12, 2009, Loyola High School was in court to
argue for an exemption. On June 18, 2010, the Superior Court concluded
that the decision to refuse Loyola's request was invalid because it
assumed that a confessional program could not achieve the goals
proposed by the Ministry program. The judgment permitted Loyola to
teach its own version of the ERC course. The Minister appealed and in a
judgment issued December 4, 2012, the Quebec Court of Appeal overturned
the Superior Court's ruling.
The key elements in the debate
Loyola believes that the Minister was wrong to have used the criterion
of "confessionality" as the reason for denying the requested exemption
and for not recognizing Loyola's program as "equivalent". The
Minister's argument that it would be impossible to teach tolerance,
good will and good citizenship from a confessional perspective is
absurd. Catholic education in general, and Jesuit education in
particular, have produced a whole spectrum of intellectually competent
individuals who made, and continue to make, a difference in the world.
Further, Loyola contends that the Minister's decision violates Loyola's
religious freedom by imposing on the school a pedagogy that is counter
to its principles. Paul Donovan, Loyola's Principal, is of the opinion
that "… there is, on the Minister's part, the political desire to
'secularize' the public schools to better reflect the multi-cultural
reality of our evolving society. But," he asks, "does this mean that confessional, private schools and other
institutions, should be 'secularized' as well?"
Although the Court of Appeal acknowledged that there was a possible
infringement of religious freedom, it argued that the infringement was
negligible because the ERC course was only one course "among many".
Loyola would argue that calling the Minister's infringement on Loyola's
religious freedom "negligible" is to demonstrate a profound lack of
understanding of the nature of religious freedom.
Finally, Loyola disputes the Minister's contention that religious
corporations, such as Loyola, cannot possess freedom of religion at
all. Donovan indicates that "… perhaps the most remarkable facet of the case is the fact that the
Quebec Attorney General has gone on public record saying that religious
corporations, such as Loyola, do not even enjoy freedom of religion." According to this position, only individuals possess freedom of
religion, whereas corporations such as Loyola (incorporated as a
non-profit entity under the Quebec Companies Act) do not, and the State
can restrict their religious practice and belief as much as it wishes.
This would mean that the numerous religious groups in the province are
entirely at the mercy of the State. "This is completely contrary to Canada's tradition of religious freedom
as we understand it," concludes Donovan.
The decision of the Court of Appeal to overturn the initial decision
was, to say the least, disappointing for Loyola. After much
soul-searching, it was decided to pursue the matter and ask the Supreme
Court of Canada to hear the case.
Loyola is an English private school founded and managed by Jesuits. It
traces its origins to 1848. Located in Montréal, it is home to 750 boys
from Secondary-One to Secondary-Five. Its mission is the formation of
mature, responsible Christian adults, in accordance with the traditions
of the Catholic Church and the Society of Jesus.
SOURCE: Loyola High School
For further information:
For information: Mark Bednarczyk, 514-486-1101 ext. 212