OTTAWA, Canada — Canada’s Supreme Court should accommodate a Catholic high school’s objections to parts of a government-mandated religion course that contradict Catholic belief, supporters of the school said in a legal brief.
“Faith-based educational institutions should be free to live and operate according to the faith they teach and espouse,” Gerald Chipeur of the Canadian law firm Miller Thompson LLP said March 11. “If the government can force Loyola High School to violate its faith, then the government can do the same to others.”
Chipeur, an attorney allied with the U.S.-based law group Alliance Defending Freedom, filed a brief March 10 in support of the Jesuit-run Loyola High School in Montreal.
The case concerns the province of Quebec’s rules for a religion and ethics course introduced in 2008. The program presents all religions as equally valid and deos not include explanations of religious belief. Teachers of the course, even in Catholic schools, cannot express a preference for any particular faith.
The brief said that the lack of legal accommodations for the high school leads to “limits on the religious speech of Loyola staff and students, simply because the speech is religious.”
The religious nature of Loyola High School means that teachers and administrators cannot put aside their faith for one class without “fundamentally changing the nature of the school,” the brief argued.
“The Supreme Court of Canada has specifically recognized this reality in connection with Catholic schools,” it continued, adding that the court expects government decision-makers to respect the “diversity of views” in Canadian society.
Brett Harvey, senior counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom, said the school does not object to teaching students about the diversity of religious faiths and their distinctiveness.
However, he continued, “the government should not require a Catholic school to tell its students that the Catholic faith is no more valid than a myriad of conflicting faith traditions.”
“All faith-based institutions must be free to speak and act consistently with their faith.”
In October 2013, the school’s principal, Paul Donovan, explained the school’s concerns in an interview with Canada’s National Post newspaper.
He said that, under present rules, if a student asks questions about a Catholic perspective during the course, a Catholic schoolteacher is not allowed to answer.
“The government wants statements about religious belief to be absolute. They’re not to be argued. They cannot be seen as rational,” he said. He noted that this contradicts Catholic approaches, which see reason as “the first step to faith,” and he questioned whether a course taught in this way could improve religious literacy.
A Quebec Superior Court sided with the school in 2010, while, in 2012, an appeals court sided with the Quebec government.
In January, Canada’s Supreme Court granted other religious denominations the right to intervene in the case in defense of the high school. Chipeur’s brief was filed on behalf of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.