The Supreme Court of Canada says Montreal’s Loyola High School had its Charter religious freedoms violated by the Quebec government’s refusal to allow it to teach a program from a Catholic perspective.
But in a 4-3 split decision, the Court also rejected the private Catholic school’s proposal for an alternative to the so-called Ethics and Religious Culture program mandated by the Quebec government in 2008.
In the judgement written by Madam Justice Rosalie Abella, the majority said Loyola must adhere to the ERC program’s requirement that other religions be taught in as “neutral and objective” a manner as possible—not by how they compare with Catholicism.
The minority decision, co-written by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and Mr. Justice Michael J. Moldaver argued such an approach would lead to “coerced silence” by those teaching the course, and place them in the position of adopting “a false and facile posture of neutrality,” particularly on ethical issues.
“It is inevitable that ethical standards that do not comport with Catholic beliefs will be raised for classroom discussion. Faced with a position that is fundamentally at odds with the Catholic faith, Loyola teachers would be … render[ed] mute during large portions of the ethics discussion—a discussion that is, as the ERC Program presupposed, crucial to developing a civilized and tolerant society,” the Chief Justice and Justice Moldaver write.
They are joined in their dissent by Mr. Justice Marshall E. Rothstein.
However, all seven justices who heard the case were unanimous that Loyola’s religious rights were violated when the Quebec government refused the school’s request for an exemption based on its Catholic character and 175-year history as a Jesuit institution.
“The Minister’s decision requiring that all aspects of Loyola’s proposed program be taught from a neutral perspective, including the teaching of Catholicism, limited freedom of religion more than was necessary … It did not reflect a proportionate balancing and should be set aside,” the Court says.
What remains unclear is whether Loyola can teach Catholicism as true, within the context of the ERC program, or whether it must simply avoid suggesting other religions are untrue from a Catholic perspective. It has left that balancing act up to Quebec’s minister of education.
Watch our interview with former principal of Loyola, Paul Donovan, filmed this morning: