Quebec Mandate to Teach Religion Classes Could Backfire on the Religious

The Supreme Court of Canada is battening down the hatches on potential claims that laws or educational programs infringe on a person’s right to freedom of religion and conscience.

In a key Charter of Rights decision on Friday, the court endorsed a religious instruction program that became mandatory in Quebec schools in 2008. The court said that anyone who challenges a program cannot simply assert that it offends their religious rights without furnishing tangible proof of harm.

Hmm I wonder what tangible proof of harm looks like when referring to the impact of religious teachings on children — Jesus Camp, anyone?

Errol Mendes, a professor at the University of Ottawa, endorses this decision:

“This is an important ruling that says there are limits to when religious groups can claim that their rights are infringed in a multicultural and diverse society… It is saying that governments have the right to promote initiatives that recognize the diversity of our society without singling out one or more religion for either benefits or disadvantage.”

It should be noted that the major religions that are taught in this course are Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and aboriginal beliefs — not really my idea of an adequate variety. Is the government really recognizing the true diversity of our society?

On the one hand, I agree that if students are going to be forced to learn about religion, they should learn about them all equally. This should include information about atheism or ‘non-religion’ because that is also a very relevant set of beliefs.

Although I’m sure there are some atheist families in Quebec that are not thrilled about this ruling, it’s the religious parents that are coming forward to protest. Why? Possibly because many atheist parents are comfortable with the fact that their children will learn about religions (and many even endorse it), but have “faith” in the fact that their children are equipped with the ability to discern fantasy from reality.

The decision was a blow to a Quebec couple who wanted to pull their son from a mandatory ethics and religion program, claiming it is making him confused about the Roman Catholic belief system he is being taught at home.

The mother of the Grade 4 pupil said on Friday that the mixed messages of the Quebec program and have caused her son to question his faith at an age where he should be listening to parental instruction.

“There is a time and place for everything, and this exposure should come later. Unless, of course, the entire point of the exercise is to sow doubt”…

I both chuckled and was angered when I read these comments. I find it humorous and ironic that parents complain because someone is going to inform their child about other stories that might contradict the stories they’ve been telling them at home. That could confuse a child and possibly even lead them to recognize that these stories are ridiculous! I especially like the parent who thinks her son is too young to be able to question his faith because he’s at an age where he “should be listening to parental instruction.” Whatever happened to being able to think for themselves, critically evaluate information, make informed choices, and have a say in what they believe or don’t? I guess that’s for us atheist parents to worry about.

As for the woman who claims that exposure to other religions or ways of thinking “should come later,” why? Because you need a solid period of time to totally indoctrinate your child before they are allowed to have access to contrary information that might lead them to recognize that they are being indoctrinated?

Well I guess that makes sense.

The debate goes on and more parents are likely going to come forward and complain. It gives me hope, however, that if atheism continues to grow, I just might make a push for The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins to become a text in Junior High Science class :)

About katied

Katie is a Child & Family Therapist who works with children who have experienced trauma or abuse. She currently resides in beautiful British Columbia, Canada.

  • Anonymous

    The outcome of being taught several contradicting bullshit stories is of course going to be to question them all.

    • Richard Tingley

      I would agree. I have often thought that a nuts and bolts class (eg Christians do this, Muslims do that, etc) about religion in the public schools in America would be a great thing. Not only do I think it would head off so much of the hate brought on from simple ignorance, but the reality that they are all BS would become glaringly apparent.

      • dauntless

        A class like that would have to be taught by teachers with open minds. I took a World Cultures course in high school and one of the things the teacher taught was that all Muslims believed that non-Muslims are “white devils” and wish to eradicate them from the face of the planet And if you think that was just a 9/11 reactionary problem, this was in the late-90′s. As I was quick to make a diverse group of friends in college, I realized that the high school teacher was full of shit. But imagine the damage an evangelical christian could inflict while teaching a course like that.

        • Anonymous

          Islamic teachings do include classes of people that Allah commands to exterminate. They just don’t happen to be “white devils”, and it is not all non-Muslims. They are instructed to spare “the people’s of the book” which is Jews and Christians, but only if they pay the Jizya, a tax which is to be collected on them in a way that makes clear their humiliation. Everyone else must convert or die. So that would be Hindus, Native Americans, Taoists, Atheists, Jains, Buddhists, animists, Zooastrians, Shintoists, Confusians, and so on.

          Whether all people who self identify as Muslim believe the Qur’an as written is another topic. That a very large proportion are either illiterate or not literate in Aramaic means they may have no clue as to the true contents of the Qur’an. Plus with a death penalty on apostates one cannot be sure when one is speaking to a true Muslim or just an atheist avoiding a head chopping.

    • Categorical Joe

      The first time I realized that I was probably an atheist (although I didn’t use the term then; like many others, I conflated atheism and “Strong atheism” thanks to certain religious atheist-bashers) was during a comparative religions course in High School.

      I wasn’t sheltered. I realized that there were other beliefs, I even knew what some of them were, but confronting them directly and alongside my own was quite powerful. At the start of the course, we had to write on a piece of paper (only for ourselves) what our belief system was; by the end, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable writing the same thing.

      And yes, that’s even despite the teacher not being non-religious. I have a feeling she New Agey or something, certainly not not-religious, but she taught the course completely neutrally.

  • Anonymous

    I was born and mainly raised in Québec and in fact recently moved back here due to work.  I recently learned about this new program and am a bit confused as to why it was created, in my days (I’m just 26) we had the choice of either purely secular “moral class” (essentially ethics) or religious studies.

    I fully accept diversity but I don’t understand what good this class can bring about except perhaps point out the differences between beliefs and lead to discussion on religion. This in itself is a good thing but considering how strongly people feel about the subject, I think there’s potential for conflict. I wish they had stuck to the old program where atheists could just ignore all religions equally.

    • Anonymous

      I wish they had stuck to the old program where atheists could just ignore all religions equally.

      Why would anyone want to prevent their kids from learning about religions?  We’re not talking about ‘teaching religion’ here, just ensuring that every child/future adult isn’t sheltered from worldviews different than their own.

      At the judge said:

      the early exposure of children to realities that differ from those in their immediate family environment is a fact of life in society. The suggestion that exposing children to a variety of religious facts in itself infringes their religious freedom or that of their parents amounts to a rejection of the multicultural reality of Canadian society

      The parents who brought this case to the supreme court (and who wanted to keep their kids out of this religion/ethics course) argued that “their children would suffer serious harm from contact with a series of beliefs that were mostly incompatible with those of the family.”

      So, merely exposing their kids to beliefs different than their own would ’cause harm’?  Yay ignorance!

  • Anonymous

    This article is somewhat inaccurate. The religion portion of the class is basically a survey of religious diversity (which answers your question, Skepticalbully–the idea is to educate kids about the different cultures with which they’ll come into contact). The idea isn’t to indoctrinate children into religion. Also, the course isn’t limited to the religions you mentioned. Even atheistic philosophies are covered (emphasis mine).

    In developing the learning and evaluation situations, the teacher must ensure that:
    • Christianity (Catholicism and Protestantism) is covered throughout each year of a cycle
    • Judaism and Native spirituality are covered on a number of occasions in each year of a cycle
    • Islam is covered on a number of occasions over the course of a cycle
    • Buddhism is covered on a number of occasions over the course of a cycle
    • Hinduism is covered on a number of occasions over the course of a cycle
    • other religions are covered over the course of a cycle, depending on the reality and the needs of the class
    cultural expressions and expressions derived from representations of the world and of human beings that reflect the meaning and value of human experience outside of religious beliefs and affiliation are addressed during the cycle

    https://www7.mels.gouv.qc.ca/DC/ECR/pdf/ecr_elementary.pdf
    https://www7.mels.gouv.qc.ca/DC/ECR/pdf/ecr_secondary.pdf

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for that essential clarification Ibis3

    • Gus Snarp

      Interesting though that Christianity enjoys a privileged position in the list as the only one that must be addressed “throughout”, rather than “during”, “over the course”, or “on a number of occasions”.

      • Anonymous

        It’s because of the history and makeup of Quebec culture. If kids are going to be taught (say, in history classes) about the power the Roman Catholic Church formerly held in the province and the Quiet Revolution, if the most common religion the children will encounter in day to day life is Christianity, then it behooves them to know more about it. I don’t think there’s anything sinister in it.

  • http://twitter.com/PeteHullah Peter Hullah

    I have no problem at all with religion’s being taught at school. It’s the same as kids’ having to learn about Greek, Roman and Egyptian mythologies. As long as they’re taught that it’s all mythology. Oh wait ….

    “As for the woman who claims that exposure to other religions or ways of
    thinking “should come later,” why? Because you need a solid period of
    time to totally indoctrinate your child before they are allowed to have
    access to contrary information that might lead them to recognize that
    they are being indoctrinated?”

    I had a neighbour who used this argument. She was horrified that I was bringing my kids up as atheists and said I should bring them up as Christians; they could decide if they wanted to be atheists when they’re old enough. I said I was bringing them up as atheists and that they would decide what they believed or didn’t when they we’re old enough!

  • Anonymous

    Wow, a comment from one of the appellants (one of the parents who wanted to prevent their child from having to take the class) really says it all:

    “My son is in fourth grade and he already asks questions about his own religion and I find it sad that it’s happening at such a young age,”

    Sad that the child is ‘asking questions’.  Enough said.

    • Anonymous

      Didn’t you know? The story of Adam and eve and the Tree of Knowledge, along with the story of Doubting Thomas clearly establish that asking questions is sinful. Do you want these inquisitive children to rot in hell? Heck, they don’t even need to be the ones that went after the knowledge to be guilty. Some guy four thousand years ago biting into an information packed apple is enough to stain them from birth with original sin. Any questioning of this is the sure path to eternal torment. Oh and only acceptance of Jesus gets you a pass to heaven.

  • Justin Miyundees

    Utterly incorrigible.  

    Put their religion in: Good.  Take other religions out:  Good.Put other religions in: Bad.  Take their religion out: Bad.  Put no religion in:  Bad.How do you reason with the unreasonable?

    • Moribund Cadaver

      The problem is that in their reality tunnel, their religion represents the only correct and valid view of reality. They know enough to not often outright say it, but if they were truly honest they’d say something like this:

      “This is god’s world, and god’s society, and there’s only one true and right thing to teach children. Everything else is false teaching and things we shouldn’t speak or think of. Schools should only teach reading, writing, and arithmetic, and everything else is in our holy book.”

      That is the true core of their thinking, much of the time. It is often hidden away behind layers of double speak and appeals to “religious persecution” and cries of “biased representation”.

  • http://twitter.com/PeteHullah Peter Hullah

    Amazing that Judaism – 13 million people – is several times a year, whereas Islam (1.5 billion people), Hinduism (1 billion people) and Bhuddism (500 million people) are just several times during an entire cycle.

    Non-religious concepts are just “addressed”!

    • Anonymous

      It’s based upon the religious diversity and religious history of *Quebec*, not the proportions of adherents in the world.

      As for non-religious philosophies being “addressed” rather than “covered” (NOTE: I don’t know what the original French was, so I’m just basing my speculation on these English translations)? I suspect that has to do with the presentation of content. Say you want to talk about how various religions deal with accepting a new member of the community. So you cover baptism, naming ceremonies, circumcision, and other religious rituals. What can you do with non-religious approaches? You address the fact that atheists don’t generally require such rituals.

      I’m not a teacher, and I’m not living in Quebec, and if I were in charge, I’d make improvements to the curriculum, but I feel it’s a good basis for a model course in a secular school system (which is the aim of the Quebec government).

  • Gus Snarp

    I’m not sure how I feel about this. I don’t mind teaching kids about religion, but then again, what are these kids, 9 years old? That’s fourth grade in the States anyway, so correct me if I’m wrong.

    Seems to me they’ve got a lot to learn about a lot of things, and having an entire class, or a large segment of a class, dedicated to religion seems like a waste of time. Is this part of a larger cultural diversity class? I can see the value of that to some extent. Maybe I’m just old fashioned in thinking about what the curriculum should be in elementary school, but when I hear about the short shrift given to science in elementary school in the U.S., I can’t imagine religion being given time that good improve science education. If this were high school or junior high, I probably wouldn’t have any issue with it, but in fourth grade? I just don’t see it.

    • Eric D Red

      There’s really two good reasons to teach about religions (and I do mean “about” not, indoctrination):
      1. Religion does play a big role in our society.  Whether you believe or not, or whatever you believe, you can’t deny that it has an impact.  People need to understand what impacts our society so deeply.
      2. And from an athiest point of view, there’s probably no bigger cause of athiesm than really understanding religion overall.  Indoctrination in one religion doesn’t do this, but broader understanding of religion overall, or even the claims of one, does.  The complaints from various people about this decision prove that. 

      • Anonymous

        #3, it reduces racism and other forms of bigotry. If you have some Muslim or Sikh kids in your class and the teacher talks about how some people think Mohammed or Nanak were special teachers, and this is what they think about God etc., they’re no longer some scary, alien Others. As for those kids, they can feel included in the discussion instead of foreign and ostracised.

        • Eric D Red

          Very good point.  When people realize that the other’s beliefs are, rather than what they’re often portrayed as, it becomes less weird.  Of course, that’s what many of the dominant religion fear.  If the others aren’t seen as something crazy and evil, maybe that will soften their own hold.

          But your point is another reason that I believe this kind of course should be mandatory.  I can’t see doing so without upsetting many people, unfortunately.

    • Mrs. B.

      I agree completely that a religious survey type course should be presented only as an elective at the junior high or high school level. There are just too many other areas such as math, science, history, geography, English, etc., where education is already falling short – especially in the US – to warrant adding something like this as a compulsory course at any grade level.

      • Reginald Jooald

        I’d rather see this being taught than Geography. There’s a lot of xenophobia floating around right now, which is causing no shortage of problems.

        But what I’d *really really* like to see is a critical thinking course. Emphasize teaching how to learn and how to think, not teaching rote facts.

        And speaking of geography, I was always amazed by the amount of trivia that kids in American schools are depicted as learning on TV. Among things, they always show kids learning US geography by rote: state capitals, rivers, this and that. Here in Canada we spent a bit of time on that stuff, but it amounted to part of a semester (it was awhile ago but I don’t think it was a dedicated Geography course, I think it was part of social studies or something else), and was as much focused on our country as on the rest of North America. The exam questions had us filling in parts of (or whole) maps, as well as labelling them.

        • Anonymous

          As Graham points out, part of this class does cover some aspects of critical thinking. For example, here’s coverage evaluating fallacious techniques of argumentation:

          Hasty generalization
          - Consists of arriving at a general conclusion on the basis of a single case or a few cases, without ensuring that the sampling is sufficiently representative to support the conclusion.
          Personal attack (ad hominem argument)
          - Consists of attacking a person so as to undermine his/her credibility rather than his/her arguments.
          Appeal to the crowd (“bandwagon”)
          - Consists of accepting or rejecting an argument because it is endorsed by one or more persons deemed to be either respectable or not.
          Appeal to the people (ad populum argument)
          - Consists of justifying the idea that something is true or acceptable based solely on the fact that a large number of people agree that it is so, without checking that it is so.
          Appeal to prejudice
          - Consists of appealing to a preconceived opinion, which may be favourable or unfavourable and which is often asserted by the community, the times or people’s upbringing.
           Appeal to stereotype
          - Consists of appealing to a fixed idea about a group of people without taking into account individual qualities. The image is generally negative and based on false or incomplete information.
          Argument from authority
          - Consists of appealing incorrectly or inappropriately to a person’s authority in order to support an argument.

          Also, critical thinking is stressed in the science curriculum:

          This program provides an introduction to scientific and technological activity by using learning contexts involving situations in which students can apply science and
          technology, both of which make use of intellectual processes such as questioning, systematic observation, trial-and-error, experimental investigation, the assessment of needs and constraints, model building and the creation of prototypes. Scientific and technological work also calls for creativity, a concern for efficiency, rigour, initiative and the ability to think critically. By engaging in these types of intellectual processes while exploring problems in their environment, the students will gradually learn to use the types of reasoning associated with scientific and technological activity, come to appreciate the nature of these activities and acquire the languages used
          in science and technology.

          http://www.mels.gouv.qc.ca/DGFJ/dp/programme_de_formation/primaire/pdf/educprg2001/educprg2001-062.pdf

        • Gus Snarp

          As the holder of a master’s degree in geography, I can tell you that the way we teach geography in primary and secondary schools in the U.S. is pathetic. Geography as a subject is so much more than memorizing place names (although even in undergrad geography you still get handed a blank map and asked to fill it in for an exam). Geography, as a matter of fact, should include the religions of various places, as well as other cultural factors, economics, physical features, etc.

          In fact, I think that’s my whole problem here, is this a single course on diversity with a large segment on religions? That’s OK, but not optimal. Is it just a class on world religions? interesting, but not really a primary school subject. What I’d rather see is religious and cultural diversity addressed across the curriculum. When discussing history, we discuss religion and its role. When discussing geography, we discuss religious and cultural differences in different places.

  • Anonymous

    I noticed that the number of posts went from 12 to 11 a few minutes ago…….is there a way we can delete posts that I’m not aware of?   *perk*

  • Graham Hill

    Take a look at this section of the religion and ethics curriculum:
    http://www.mels.gouv.qc.ca/progression/ethiqueCultureReligieuse/index_en.asp?page=competence_03 
    They’re actually teaching kids about how to recognize and avoid logical fallacies!

    • Anonymous

      Only a restricted set of fallacies. They don’t cover equivocation for example.

  • Nicholas Titterton

    This reminds me of my religion unit in my junior high social studies class. We learned about every major religion, including atheism and agnosticism.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    when it comes to school and fundi’s, there 2 things they hate. Being held back from pushing their doctrine, and having any other religion given the same privilege 

  • Michael Caton

    Dan Dennett (and others) argue that it’s totally appropriate, in public schools, to teach the *facts* of *all* religions.  What’s interesting is that the theist response to such a proposal is almost always “Well…teach mine first.  Then teach the rest later.  Maybe.”  In a way it’s a good idea because it forces their true agenda into the daylight a bit more, and then they can’t claim that they’re for “religious freedom”.


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