Québec Court Rules in Religious Education Case

On June 18, 2010, the Québec Superior Court granted Loyola High School the right to be exempted from the Ministerial Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC) program imposed by the Québec Minister of Education, on the grounds that the school teaches the subject using its own program. The ERC program is a mandatory ethics and morality course of study introduced in 2009.

The appellant, Loyola High School, is a Jesuit-administered Catholic educational institution. Loyola filed an application to be exempted from teaching the Ministerial ERC program under s. 22 of the Regulation, respecting private education, which allows a private educational institution to be exempted from a ministerial program provided that it teaches an equivalent program.

Loyola presented its proposed program, one with the same objectives as the Ministerial ERC program, to be taught in a manner presenting the full range of religious views. Loyola's program differed from the ministerial program in that it contained Jesuit pedagogical principles, which the “professional posture” required by the ministerial program would have forced it to abandon.

The Minister of Education, Recreation and Sports dismissed Loyola's application, asserting that it has broad discretion under the first paragraph of s. 22 of the Regulation and that its decision is reasonable. Regarding the issue of freedom of religion, because Loyola is a legal person, it cannot allege infringement of freedom of religion.

The Minister argues that the Ministerial ERC program does not infringe on Loyola's freedom of conscience and of religion and, even if such an infringement occurred, it is warranted in a free and democratic society. Confronted with a refusal that it considered to be unjustified, Loyola decided to take action and contest the decision before the Superior Court of Québec.

A Québec Superior Court ruled that Loyola High School's application was in fact compatible with the first paragraph of s. 22 of the Regulation, and is exempted from being required to use the program established by the Minister to teach the mandatory subject of ERC.

“In these times of respect of fundamental rights, of tolerance, of reasonable accommodations and of multiculturalism, the attitude adopted by the [Education] Department in the current matter is surprising,” Québec Superior Court Justice Gérard Dugré wrote on June 18, 2010.

The court acknowledged that while it is in the government's purview to mandate a program that deals with this subject matter, it is not its place to exclude all other forms of achieving the same goals and Loyola is authorized to teach ERC using its own program.

The Québec government will appeal the ruling.

Borden Ladner Gervais LLP represented the appellant, Loyola High School, with a team that comprised Jacques Darche and Mark Phillips on a pro bono basis.

The Québec Minister of Education, Recreation and Sports was represented by Lucie Jobin and Benoît Boucher of Justice Québec.