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Faith Exchange: Religion and the parental prerogative (iStockphoto)
Faith Exchange: Religion and the parental prerogative (iStockphoto)


Religion and the parental prerogative Add to ...

What are the limits to raising our children as we see fit? Every parent, child, teacher and neighbour can relate to the question. It’s by no means a religious issue alone, but Canadians have seen it in the news lately with strong links to faith. A few examples:

  • In Kingston, Ont., three members of the immigrant Shafia family were convicted of murdering three daughters (and another female relative) who challenged their father’s strong cultural and religious beliefs about their upbringing.
  • In Quebec, parents of various stripes have revolted against the province’s mandatory “ethics and religious culture” school course, which is seen as either too respectful of religion or not respectful enough.
  • In British Columbia, police and the courts have probed questions of child trafficking and abuse related to underage polygamist “marriages.”
  • In Ontario, Catholic school boards have struggled to reconcile church teachings with government efforts to fight bullying of gay students.

Almost every Canadian would agree that parental rights stop short of killing one’s children, no matter what the creed. But clearly there are many grey areas in this debate, which Faith Exchange panelists have convened to discuss.

Guy Nicholson: Thanks for joining us today, panelists. Have you ever found yourself in a position of parenthood where society’s requirements conflicted with your faith?

Peter Stockland: Years ago, we were involved in a bitter fight over keeping our kids’ school francophone and Catholic in Alberta. There was a lot of pressure to have it run as a public school. This was in Alberta, where we had the constitutional right to French language and Catholic education. Even Premier Ralph Klein got involved, asking, “What is a Catholic paper clip?” as if it was all about resources. Our response was that our kids did not have a francophone head and a Catholic head. They were francophone Catholics. Point finale.

Lorna Dueck: Yes, I have. When my children were young, I protected and steered them away from things in society that I felt conflicted with the character of Christ. I made a bubble of warm, fuzzy, perfect world around them, or at least I tried to maintain that façade for a few of those wonderfully simple early years.

Sheema Khan: We have three children, ages 9, 14 and 15. They have attended a variety of public schools, private non-religious schools and private Islamic schools. We have not faced any “dilemmas” regarding school requirements that may be at odds with our faith, at least not yet. Or if we have, I can’t seem to recall them, since they have been amicably resolved. For our two older kids, we have welcomed the classes having to do with sex education as an opportunity to speak further, in private, at home, about moral teachings having to do with intimate relationships before marriage.

I can only recall my own experience as a child of immigrants growing up in Montreal, when we were required to recite the Lord’s Prayer in public school. My parents instructed me simply to keep silent (since the prayer was not part of our belief system).

One year, when my two older children were in a private (non-confessional) school, there was a kerfuffle because one or a few parents objected to a Christmas play, whereas we fully endorsed participation by our children, so they might learn from and participate in the customs of such an auspicious holiday.

Guy Nicholson: I was thinking about the Lord’s Prayer when I was preparing for this discussion. I think that even if you believe strongly that prayer shouldn’t be mandated in secular public schools (which I do), there’s a lot to be gained from Sheema’s very tolerant approach.

Howard Voss-Altman: While I respect Sheema’s very tolerant approach, I fundamentally disagree with it. In a public-school setting, such prayers are an establishment of religion by the state and – by design – are meant to exclude minority religious beliefs or the non-believer. In a private-school setting, it is up to the individual parent to determine the limits of religious tolerance. Personally, as a religious minority, I would not want my children to be forced to remain silent (and suffer the potential harm of social exclusion) while others were praying. I would not choose such a school for their education.

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