Ontario court says students can shun religion

Ontario court says students can shun religion

AT FIRST glance is seems a tad  surprising that, in this increasingly secular world, those voting in a poll run by Canada’s have come down firmly in favour of public funding for Catholic schools in Ontario.

The reason they did so, it would appear, is that pupils attending Catholic schools in Ontario aren’t compelled do any Catholic stuff, like attend religious classes or liturgical services.

This came to light on Monday when the  Ontario Superior Court ruled that students at a Catholic high school who are already entitled to be excused from religious courses must also be excused, if they wish, from religious field trips and attending mass.

The decision is being hailed by critics of publicly funded Catholic schools, who believe it brings a secular option to a religious school system they feel is a costly duplication of education.

Said Leonard Baak, President of, which opposes taxpayer funding of Catholic schools.

Parents of Grade 9 to12 students living in a community where the nearest school, the least crowded school, or the best school is Catholic can now chose that school without fear that their children will be forced to take sectarian (religious) courses and programs of little interest to them.

Grade 11 student Jonathan Erazo is not Roman Catholic, but has attended Brampton’s Notre Dame Catholic School because his father, Oliver Erazo, felt it was the best school close to their home.

Oliver Erazo pictured in front of Notre Dame Catholic Secondary School in Brampton with his sons Amilcar, left, and Jonathan.

Oliver Erazo pictured in front of Notre Dame Catholic Secondary School in Brampton with his sons Amilcar, left, and Jonathan.

In Grade 10, Jonathan asked to be excused from religious classes, and after refusing at first, the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board eventually agreed because Ontario’s Education Act excuses non-Catholic high school students from “any program or course of study in religious education” if their parent asks in writing.

But when Jonathan also wanted to be excused from having to attend five or six church services and a religious field trip each year, the school refused, arguing that all students are expected to take part in these for:

Supervision, safety and community reasons.

Oliver Erazo decided to ask the courts for clarification, and Ontario Superior Court Justice Ted Matlow agreed with Erazo.

No Catholic school system that is required by law to admit non-Catholic students should have the right to require participation in such activities as liturgies and retreats. In my view, the liturgies and retreats … have as their central purpose the provision of religious experiences and education to the students who attend them.

Commenting on the decision  here, Star correspondent  Thomas Walkom asked:

What’s the point of a religious school system if students can opt out of religion?

He pointed out that in 1984 a Conservative government pledge to fully fund Catholic schools led to its defeat a year later. In 2007, the Tories were defeated again in an election fought over the issue of religious school funding.

The compromise that emerged from all of this was a complicated one. The province did extend full funding to Catholic schools. But, in exchange, Catholic high schools had to admit non-Catholic students — and allow them to opt out of any religious instruction.

He added:

The judgment raises two interrelated questions.

First, why do parents who don’t want their children exposed to religion send their children to religious schools?

The answer, it seems, is that many Ontarians think Catholic schools are better than their public counterparts.

Some parents like the dress code that certain Catholics schools require. Some think they put more emphasis on discipline. Some think they provide a better education.

Ontario’s Catholic schools have already found it hard to navigate the tricky path between church orthodoxy and public acceptability, most recently over the issue of gay-straight student clubs.

Thanks to a 1997 court decision, they have managed to retain the right to discriminate in employment. Catholic schools need not hire non-Catholic teachers.

But if they can’t make their students experience even a little bit of Catholicism — if, in order to qualify for government support, they are simply public schools with a dress code — why bother?

Hat tip: BarrieJohn


10 responses to “Ontario court says students can shun religion”

  1. Broga says:

    This system reflects the way much of society has gone. The religion is nothing more than a patina. Underneath there is no belief. The church, mainly C. of E., has been around a long time and even in its death throes is often part of the community. I have friends who are atheists but want to take part in church music. One is a brilliant organist and the best organ accessible to him is in his local church.

    The façade of religion is all that is left to the church. So it desperately clings to its 26 non elected bishops in the Lords. No doubt supported by Dave “I do religion” Cameron. The BBC still behaves, despite all the evidence, as if the majority of its audience was Christian. And we have the farce of non religious parents going to church for years to get their children into the nearest school.

    The religious surface is rotten and corroded by secularism beyond recovery. Muslims dare not even debate their incredible beliefs. Their preferred option, for those who can get away with it, is to kill the apostates and unbelievers. The Roman Catholic Church is now known to be a corrupt and untrustworthy outfit where all they have is the ritual and pretence.

    We live in modern times. People have access to information. Facts trump the religious fiction. Despite the casuistry, the pretence and the lies religion is losing. That will continue. It cannot be otherwise.

  2. jay says:

    It’s interesting, the comment about non religious people sending their kids to Catholic school.

    I don’t know about Ontario, but there are quite a few areas in the US where the schools are so crime ridden, violent and dysfunctional that such a course might be an option. (Unlike our public schools, private schools don’t have to accept the riffraff)

    The problem is not ‘money’, it’s the toxic neighborhoods in which these schools are located and (forcibly) draw their students from. And I can fully understand a parent’s unwillingness to send their kids to these schools in an effort to make the schools better (too slow at best, and very unlikely to succeed anyhow).

    It’s a bad choice to have to make, but there are plenty of people with no other option.

  3. barriejohn says:

    At least they’re being honest: what’s the point of religions providing education if they can’t indoctrinate their charges? What’s the point of soup kitchens, food banks, homeless shelters, prison courses, and good works of any kind, if they aren’t recruiting people to their dwindling ranks? So much for selfless sacrifice. Someone direct David Cameron in this direction!

  4. barriejohn says:

    Jay: True in Britain as well. “Faith schools” can exercise considerable selection, by one means or another, and are often in better locations than state schools. State education will become less and less popular unless something is done about this. Ironically, the formulators of the 1944 Education Act (R A Butler et al) did NOT legislate to get rid of private education as they assumed that their new state system would be so superlative that private education would “wither on the vine” (oh, the irony!). It looks very much now as if this is going to be the fate of secular education in this country, especially with the government now pushing their ridiculous “free schools”, many of which are religious.

    In October 2013, the Theos Think Tank published a research study on faith schools, titled ‘More than an Educated Guess: Assessing the evidence’, which concluded that there is evidence for the “faith schools effect boosting academic performance but concludes that this may reflect admissions policies rather than the ethos of the school.” John Pritchard, Chair of the Church of England’s Education Board, welcomed the results of the study, stating that “I am pleased to see that this report recognises two very important facts. The first is that faith schools contribute successfully to community cohesion; they are culturally diverse and there is no evidence that there is any social division on racial or ethnic grounds. The second important fact acknowledged in the Theos report is that faith schools do not intentionally filter or skew admissions in a way which is designed to manipulate the system.” The study also stated that much “of the debate [about faith schools] is by nature ideological, revolving around the relative rights and responsibilities of parents, schools and government in a liberal and plural society.” The Bishop of Oxford concurred, stating that “children are being denied the chance to go to some of Britain’s best schools because antireligious campaigners have turned attempts to expand faith schools into an ideological battle-ground”.

    Talk about turning the evidence on its head!

  5. AgentCormac says:

    Meanwhile, here in the UK fifteen more schools in Birmingham are, according to the BBC News website, being investigated as a result of allegations of an ‘Islamic takeover plot’ – a plot which if true would no doubt ensure that pupils are forced to have religion rammed down their throats each and every day, and at every available opportunity.

  6. barriejohn says:

    The NSS is concerned at what nursery-age children are being taught. The religious get away with far too much by pretending that they are “just teaching the children Bible stories”, which is a blatant lie, and I have no idea why intelligent people cannot see ACE and the Alpha Course for what they really are.

  7. barriejohn says:

    I’ve linked to this site before:

    It’s a registered charity, funded by you and me, naturally!

  8. Robster says:

    Catholicism reduced to the same watered down consistency of a homeopathic “medicine”. This has to be a good thing really. The catholics aren’t in education for the good of the kids or society, they’re in it for the good of the church. It’s the catholic’s biggest evangelical field, the one place where at least some percentage will come to believe they’re really slurping down Baby jesus flesh and gorging on his blood and believing that this is somehow a perfectly normal way to behave. To have catholic schools unable to teach the catholic nonsense has to be a win for all concerned. Go Canada!