Supreme Court of Canada votes in favor of protecting Catholic school's religious freedoms

by Vanessa Garcia Rodriguez, |
The Supreme Court of Canada voted in favor of Loyola providing them exemption from requirements to teach the province's Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC) Program. | Screenshot: Loyola High School strategic plan

MONTREAL (Christian Examiner) -- Canada's highest court voted to uphold the freedom of a Montreal Jesuit-run Catholic school to teach religious classes by its own standards.

Divided by a 4-3 margin the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Quebec wrongly required Loyola High School to teach the province's ethics and religious culture program. The nine justices reportedly disagreed about the balance between religious protections and adherence to the law, according to CBC News.

Loyola initially applied for an exemption requesting permission to teach the province's religious and cultural program from a Catholic perspective. The program requires private schools to teach the course from a non-sectarian view.

Quebec's Education Ministry denied the school's request, but a judge later granted the exemption in the Superior Court of Quebec. The Quebec Court of Appeal reversed that decision, but Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada overturned the appeal.

Now the school can now reapply for the exemption. The Education Ministry must consider it under the guidance of Thursday's ruling which held Loyola's exemption "cannot be withheld on the basis that Loyola must teach Catholicism and Catholic ethics from a neutral perspective," the Canadian Press reported.

According to the news source, the majority opinion written by McLachlin and Justice Michael Moldaver said requiring Loyola teachers to maintain a neutral perspective throughout the program would result in "practical difficulties" in the classroom.

"The net effect would be to render them mute during large portions of the ethics," McLachlin and Moldaver wrote. They noted that result would represent a "significant infringement on how Loyola transmits an understanding of the Catholic faith."

Former Loyola principal Paul Donovan agreed according to CBC news.

"The Ethics and Religious Culture program was conceived as a way to teach students to recognize the value of others and the pursuit of the common good," he told reporters. "These are laudable goals that we share and wish to inculcate in our students. However, we do not believe that religious values in the context of our school need to be suppressed to accomplish this."

Donovan noted Loyola has long encouraged discussion and debate in the classroom and has educated many prominent people, politicians and clergy, since the school's founding in 1848.