Good for the Supreme Court – it has succeeded in unwinding a needlessly tortuous conflict between the religious freedom of religious schools, and the requirement that all Quebec schools teach a compulsory, secular course on ethics and religious culture.
Loyola High School is an anglophone, Roman Catholic school in Montreal run by the Jesuits, with origins going back to 1848. Its dispute with the provincial Ministry of Education over a course known as ethics and religious culture, or ERC, has gone on for seven years. Toward the end, Loyola took the reasonable position that its teachers would teach all other ethical systems and religions from a neutral stance, as the provincial curriculum demanded, but they would not turn themselves into pretzels by trying to feign neutrality when they taught about Catholic ethics and theology.
Religious freedom, they argued, meant that a Catholic teacher in a Catholic school should be allowed to teach about Catholicism with something other than cool detachment.
Sikhs, Evangelical Protestants, Copts, home schoolers, Seventh-Day Adventists, among others, agreed with the Jesuits.
Justice Rosalie Abella and six other judges rightly said that to coerce Catholic teachers to teach Catholicism as conceived by the bureaucracy was an unreasonable infringement on constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion. A religious school should be allowed to "teach its own religion from its own perspective," she said.
In the end, the judges of the Supreme Court differed only on whether the school would have to apply all over again to the education ministry for an "equivalent" variation on the ERC curriculum. Three out of the seven judges said that Loyola should be allowed just to get on with it. Either way, the court struck the right balance.