Taxpayer-funded Catholic Schools in Ontario Force Students to Take Religion Classes, Even if They Request Exemptions August 12, 2014

Taxpayer-funded Catholic Schools in Ontario Force Students to Take Religion Classes, Even if They Request Exemptions

In Ontario, Canada, where Catholic schools receive public funding, a new report by The Globe and Mail indicates that students who want to withdraw from religion classes for academic reasons are being denied. Mind you, these aren’t just comparative religion classes — they are classes in which you’re told what to believe.

Earlier this year, an Ontario court ruled that students could be exempt from those classes at a Catholic school, but many Catholic school administrators have decided the law only applies to “students whose parents declared themselves as public-school supporters”:

The Durham Catholic District School Board gave that reason when it rejected Carolyn Borgstadt’s request for an exemption for her son, Cameron, who has been diagnosed with autism. He is about to enter Grade 12 and hopes one day to work in construction. The 17-year-old will need strong math skills to succeed in an apprenticeship, and his parents believe he would be better upgrading his math credits than learning about faith.

But Ms. Borgstadt said she has been told by the school principal that Cameron isn’t entitled to an exemption. “I feel that my son has been cheated,” she said. “It’s 70 minutes every day for an entire semester. Nobody needs that much religion, particularly when you’re talking about a child who’s struggling in the school.”

Over the course of high school in Ontario’s publicly-funded Catholic school system, students are required to take four semesters’ worth of religion classes, for 70 minutes a day. It’s a lot of wasted time if you understand the basic doctrines of various faiths but have no desire to practice them.

Many of these parents aren’t even atheists. They just want their children to bulk up on, say, math and science courses so that they’re more competitive when applying to colleges.

Maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised this is happening. It’s a result of mixing church and state, where the Church thinks it’s above the law. If Ontario tax money didn’t go to the Catholic schools, they would be welcome to dictate curriculum to students. As it stands, the courts may have to step in again just to keep the Catholic schools in line.

By the way, it’s worth noting that Canadian doesn’t have one universal school system. Every province does things a little differently and Ontario in unique in giving Catholic schools privileges typically afforded to public schools. CFI Canada and the Canadian Secular Alliance have been fighting to end those privileges for a while now.

***Update***: CFI Ottawa branch manager Seanna Watson clarifies a few things about how the school system works in an email:

You quote the phrase: “students whose parents declared themselves as public-school supporters”. Perhaps it’s too verbose to explain, but the way it works is that parents (actually all taxpayers) declare their preference for Catholic or public school as part of their municipal tax registration, and that determines which school trustees they get to vote for, and what school system their kids can attend from grade 1 to 9. (But the actual funding for Catholic schools comes out of general provincial tax revenues.) For grades 10-12, students whose parents are public school supporters are allowed to attend Catholic schools, but that is only allowed for the younger grades with special permission. So the perverse thing about this situation is that the Catholic schools have reluctantly allowed the non Catholic kids in, and they don’t have much say over that, but they are trying to say that the *real* Catholics are still under the control of the RC school system, and by extension the RC church, whether they like it or not.

There’s a lot more arcane weirdness in the situation, including the fact that it has been condemned by the UN, but none of the leaders of the 3 major provincial political parties will touch it, including our openly gay premier.

(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to @jesserude1 for the link and Ian Cromwell and Veronica Abbass for educating me on the topic. Slight revisions have been made to this post since it originally went up.)


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