I have made it no secret that I am not a believer in publicly funded religious education. Ontario is one of the very few provinces in Canada that offers residents in school boards the choice between a public education and a Catholic one. What would constitute a private education in most provinces, here in Ontario, is free. To this Jewish girl, whose parents had to break the bank to give me the religious education they wanted for me, it’s always baffled me that one religion and one religion only, in our very multi ethnic, multicultural, and multi-religious province can get religious education for free.
The reality is, though, in Ontario, the right to a religious education for Catholics is entrenched in our constitution. Other provinces have managed to find their way around it. But here, it is what it is. Jewish? Muslim? If you practice one of the other many religions that make up our Province, you’re shit out of luck if you want a religious education.
Seeing the sacrifices my parents made so that I could receive a religious education has already made me question the unique benefit afforded Catholics. But the latest decision by the human rights tribunal has officially put me over the edge.
The Simcoe Muskoka Catholic School Board will now allow students to opt out of religious studies if they want — a decision made in the wake of a human rights complaint.
The complaint was filed by Claudia Sorgini last year, claiming it was discriminatory to be refused an exemption from religious classes, in a Catholic school to which her parents decided she should attend.
Her lawyer told the Star that he hopes that the ruling in her favour will send a message to other Catholic schools that kids who attend them shouldn’t have to learn about Catholicism. “We’re hopeful that it will send a message to all Catholic school boards across the province that pressure to attend religious courses or activities is discrimination in publicly funded schools.”
I’m sorry. WHAT?!?
Unlike the elementary system, where one parent needs to be a baptized Catholic, high schools in Ontario have no such prerequisite to sending a child to a Catholic High School. But, it’s called a CATHOLIC High school, so parents must realize that the Catholic part of the school probably influences the education provided in said school.
“Once the student’s eligibility is confirmed, the exemption will be provided by the school without delay, pressure or other adverse treatment,” the settlement reads. “Students who apply for the exemption will not be asked to provide any reasons for their request, nor attend any meeting with school or board officials as a precondition to the application being recognized and accepted.”
Her lawyer said the decision is an important win for the many non-Catholic children who attend the school for reasons of geography or classes that are offered in the school.
“Teenagers have minds of their own, and they can arrive at their own opinions about their religious beliefs or creed,” he said. “If they, at that age, don’t want to take religious programs, they have a right under the Education Act to be exempt.”
Cool. Agreed. Kids who don’t want a religious education shouldn’t have to attend religious classes. We are on the same page there.
But now, what we have, is a “Catholic” school, where kids can get a free religious-based education, if they want—or choose not to get the religious part of that religious-based education.
Why are our tax dollars continuing to fund a system that is, by its very existence, exclusionary? If this decision proves anything, it’s that religious education has no place in a public education system where no non-Catholics can attend in primary and kids can opt out in secondary.
“[Champ] also argued students who may have been enrolled in a Catholic school by their parents should have the right to adhere to their own beliefs if they evolve away from religious teachings,” the Star said.
How about that become a rule for the publicly funded education system in this province; that ALL students are able to attend any publicly funded school and ‘have the right to adhere to their own beliefs if they evolve away from religious teachings.’ And not have their daily, publicly funded education, involve any, one specific religious teaching involved, at all.