.- The Quebec government has announced that it intends to cut Catholic and Protestant religious instruction from public schools and to implement a new program on ethics and religious culture by 2008. Minister of Education Jean-Marc Fournier presented a bill in the provincial legislature yesterday proposing the change, despite the fact that more than 60,000 citizens had signed a petition in favor of maintaining religious instruction in the schools. The petition was presented to the province’s Liberal government March 24.
The Minister of Education said the new program would better respond to “the current social challenges and the needs of Quebec youth today.”
“In a pluralist society like ours, it is important that schools actively contribute to the acquisition, by youth, of the knowledge, skills and attitudes that will serve them personally and socially the rest of their lives,” Fournier said in his press release.
Fournier said the move was “largely supported by a majority of Quebecers.” But a February poll by Leger Marketing indicated that 56 percent of Quebecers favored confessional instruction in public schools; 40 percent were opposed.
The new program, Fournier said, would allow place “for reflection on values and laws, and it would recognize religious heritage as an important part of our culture.”
In order to allow enough time to create and implement the new program, the ministers said the provincial government would renew the notwithstanding clause. This would allow the status quo—which offers parents and students a choice between Catholic and Protestant religious instruction, or moral instruction—to continue for the next three years.
Fournier also announced that certain groups would be invited to present their opinion before a parliamentary committee in the coming weeks.
The provincial Liberal government intends to pass the bill before summer recess at the end of June.
Quebecers have enjoyed Catholic and Protestant religious education for more than 150 years. It was a right that was guaranteed in Canada’s founding document—the British North America Act of 1867.
In 1997, the Quebec government sought an amendment to the Constitution, requesting to opt out of this legal assurance. Catholic and Protestant parents fought against the move.
But the Supreme Court of Canada eventually ruled in favor of the Quebec government. 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.