Dr. John Stackhouse thinks Catholics and Protestants are overreacting in their response to the Supreme Court's decision about religious education in Quebec.
Here's a snippet of the Supreme Court's ruling on parental requests to remove their children from state-mandated religious education, which prompted the discussion:
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 and ignores the Quebec government's obligations with regard to public education. (emphasis mine)
Stackhouse criticizes the EFC and Cardus for "arguing quite wrongly" about the case. Putting aside the fact that Cardus has, to date, not published anything official on this case, I want to query John on two matters in his argument which I think will help the discussion along.
After reviewing the curriculum, John says that it is a bona fide effort to educate its citizens about the religious realities on the ground in Quebec and should be understood as such. Specifically he says,
The curriculum does not say anything one way or another about whether one religion is better than another, whether one particular religion is the best of the bunch, or whether only one religion is valid . . . The state here takes the common-sense approach that there are in fact lots of religions in Quebec and that the state will not privilege one religion over another—not in terms of access to power, nor in terms of pedagogical endorsement. There are various religions in Quebec, and the state's interest lies in acquainting its citizens with the facts of those religions and in helping its citizens cooperate with each other for the common good.
I wonder though, if it is possible to present—as the courts suggest—"a variety of religious facts" while witholding judgment about "whether one particular religion is the best of the bunch." In a world where some religions consider other persons less human because of their lineage or gender, would we want such an approach even if it was possible?
In fact, John's second point belies any suggestion that the state will present all religious perspectives equally. He says about parents' positions on gender, race, and science:
You don't like Canadian values on these matters? Feel free to acquaint your kids with your resistance to science or your embrace of racism or sexism, but your kids—our vulnerable fellow citizens—deserve what we have collectively agreed is a proper education so that they can eventually make up their own minds on such matters . . . Canada isn't just about you: it's about us and it's about us caring about each other, including each other's (and not just our own) kids.
The important question that arises out of this train of thinking, of course, is at what point does that "it's about us"—the collective and ethereal notion of Canadian values—trump the "it's about you." The notion of a collective political perspective overriding that of the individual and their children seems logically at odds with a charter of rights that aims at protecting individual freedoms. It seems we have a Stephen Macedo-like defence of the moderate hegemony of liberalism, instead of a neutral presentation of a variety of facts. And this hegemony, it should be noted, is a contested reality, not a settled one.
Now all of this might not necessarily make the broad strokes of John's argument incorrect, but it does point to the internal contradictions of the philosophy of liberalism which dominates our legal thinking in Canada, and it lends some credence to the parental concerns that John too lightly dismisses.