Can a Catholic high school teach its students that all religions are equal? Paul Donovan, the principal of Montreal’s Loyola High School, says it can’t be done. So the boys-only Jesuit school is taking the province to court over its new ethics and religious culture program.
The new course was introduced by the Ministry of Education to teach about various religious traditions in Quebec society, with the goal of increasing tolerance among students. It teaches about Protestantism and Catholicism, as well as Judaism, native spiritualities and other religions.
But Donovan says his teachers can’t deliver a religious course without a Catholic perspective—a perspective that promotes Catholicism ahead of other beliefs. “Our parents send their sons to us because of our mission and the values that we hold as a Catholic, Jesuit school,” he wrote in a letter to the ministry. “It is our firm conviction that we cannot honestly undertake the program . . . without compromising some of those values.”
Donovan asked for an exemption from the province’s program before going to court, suggesting Loyola’s existing religious curriculum as an alternative. But Quebec Education Minister Michelle Courchesne has made it clear that a class slanted toward one religion is not acceptable.
“Part of the mandate of the course is to present religion in an even-handed way,” says Daniel Weinstock, a professor who consulted in the drafting of the new program. “If a school has as its guiding intention to inculcate children into the Catholic faith, it clearly means a part of their mandate is not to present all religions in an even-handed way.”
Loyola’s court proceedings have just finished and it may be months before a decision is handed down. But Weinstock says Quebec’s courts have historically been averse to overturning provincial legislation—so chances are, come this fall, Loyola will be teaching that all religions are equal, whether it likes it or not.