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Religions and schooling

Religion and Education in Contemporary Canada

Today, some provinces offer only secular education, some have removed confessional religious classes from public education altogether, while others retain hybrid approaches. The province of (...)

Today, some provinces offer only secular education, some have removed confessional religious classes from public education altogether, while others retain hybrid approaches. The province of Ontario, for example, continues to operate publicly funded parallel systems, extending full support to both secular and to separate, confessional Roman Catholic primary and secondary schools. Culminating a multi-decade process of secularization, the province of Québec removed its Catholic and Protestant religious instruction from public education and instituted the Ethics and Religious Culture Program in 2008. This program reflects a religious literacy approach to teaching about religion and is obligatory for all primary and secondary students in the province. Although some schools in other provinces also offer non-confessional, religious literacy courses as electives, there is no national religious literacy curriculum. Throughout Canada, private religious educational institutions commonly referred to as independent schools provide a range of choices such as Christian, Islamic, and Jewish education, among others. Similarly, a very small percentage of Canadian parents opt to home-school their children, often drawing upon particular religious traditions for curricular content. An emphasis on parental choice with regard to secular or religious schooling has historically been a mainstay of the educational landscape. The Canadian government, however, largely ignored the parental agency of Canada’s Indigenous peoples throughout much of the country’s history. The 2015 release of the Truth and Reconciliation Report is a comprehensive account of Canada’s residential school system, its tragic legacy and its ongoing impact on Aboriginal families. The report’s 94 Calls to Action signal what may come to be recognized as a watershed moment for historical and contemporary discussions of religion, education and public policy in Canada.

D 20 June 2017    AChristine L. Cusack

Education in Canada, a specific context

Provincial Oversight
The intersections of religion and education must be understood in context. Unlike many other western democracies, there is no national ministry of Education in Canada. (...)

Provincial Oversight

The intersections of religion and education must be understood in context. Unlike many other western democracies, there is no national ministry of Education in Canada. Individual provinces and territories oversee the delivery of education in their respective jurisdictions. Thus, variation in how religion is approached in Canadian classrooms is a reflection of both historical and contemporary concerns about linguistic, cultural, and religious diversity. There is a high degree of variability from province to province. Divergent state funding structures operate at the core of this variability, with some provinces extending varying levels of support to both public and private confessional institutions.

Historical Context

Understanding the current situation requires a retrospective look to nineteenth-century constitutional agreements crafted in response to the religious composition of the population during that time period. Section 93 of Canada’s Constitution Act of 1867 established a parallel system of confessional and secular schools in some provinces, wherein Catholic and Protestant institutions were guaranteed public support. This system of separate schools operated alongside publicly funded non-religious institutions.

D 20 June 2017    AChristine L. Cusack

Religion, Education and Public Policy

The scholarly study of religion and education in Canada is an expansive, interdisciplinary area encompassing a range of foci such as confessional instruction, the relationship of church and (...)

The scholarly study of religion and education in Canada is an expansive, interdisciplinary area encompassing a range of foci such as confessional instruction, the relationship of church and state, teacher training, curricular content and matters related to teaching about religion as an academic subject. Likewise, a multitude of Canadian Supreme Court decisions have shaped and continue to reshape public policy around the complexities of religion and education in this multicultural country. These cases have dealt with a range of issues such as religious freedom, parental agency, discrimination, public funding, and broad questions related to the nation’s evolving landscape of religious diversity. For example, in the landmark case of Multani v. Commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys (2006), the refusal of a Sikh student’s request to wear a kirpan at public school was declared to be an infringement of religious freedom. In S.L. v. Commission scolaire des Chênes (2012), Québec’s compulsory Ethics and Religious Culture Program was at the center of a challenge brought by parents who sought to exempt their children from the course. The Court denied the exemption request on the basis that learning about religious diversity neither harmed students nor infringed upon the religious freedom of parents or children. The anti-Semitic writings of a public school teacher in Ross v. New Brunswick School District No. 15 (1996), brought attention to the issue of religious discrimination and resulted in the removal of the teacher from his classroom. In another key case, appellants from minority religious traditions in Adler v. Ontario (1996) unsuccessfully challenged the constitutionality of exclusive public funding for Roman Catholic schools in Ontario. While this list is not exhaustive, it does demonstrate the scope of legal challenges pertaining to religion and education that have reached Canada’s highest court.

D 20 June 2017    AChristine L. Cusack

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