School’s back in. But in Quebec public schools, Catholic and Protestant religious instruction are on their way out.
While most people were thinking about summer holidays, Quebec’s provincial government quietly passed a bill on June 15 that will eliminate Catholic and Protestant religious instruction in the province’s public schools by 2008, reported the Catholic Times of Montreal.
The Ministry of Education did not issue a press release notifying the public. As well, no reports appeared in the English-language secular press.
A new program on ethics and religious culture will replace the current Catholic, Protestant and moral instruction program in 2008.
Schools can offer Catholic and Protestant religious instruction until then, but the law stipulates that a school may decide to replace it with an ecumenical program before that time.
Even faith-based private schools will have to offer the new program as of 2008. They may continue to offer confessional instruction, but only as an additional course, the minister’s press attaché told the Montreal newspaper.
Education Minister Jean-Marc Fournier presented Bill 95 in May, saying that it would better respond to “the current social challenges and the needs of Quebec youth today.”
However, parents and citizens groups, and the Assembly of Quebec Catholic Bishops rallied against the bill. A committee in favor of maintaining religious instruction in public schools submitted a petition of more than 60,000 signatures to the provincial government.
At the beginning of June, the citizens’ committee and the Quebec bishops also presented a brief to a parliamentary hearing committee, which had been set up to hold public consultations on the bill.
The bishops said confessional instruction in public schools should be maintained because religious instruction is an important part of a child’s formation. Christianity is also a significant aspect of Quebec heritage and children must learn about it in school. They also argued that the new program would likely conflict with the values Christian parents are teaching their children at home.
However, none of these arguments or petitions proved to be persuasive. “The hearings were merely a façade,” Jocelyne St-Cyr told the Catholic Times. St-Cyr heads the committee in favor of maintaining religious instruction in public schools. “The minister thinks that he has respected democracy but he has not.”
Brief history of Catholic instruction in Quebec
Quebecers have received Catholic and Protestant religious instruction in public schools for more than 150 years. It was even guaranteed as a right in Canada’s founding document—the British North America Act of 1867.
However, in 1997, the Quebec government sought an amendment to the Constitution, requesting to opt out of this legal assurance, and the Supreme Court of Canada granted the request.
Since then, the Quebec government has been slowly phasing out religious instruction through a series of successive laws, despite repeated promises to Catholic and Protestant parents that religious instruction would be maintained.