unexpected affirmation The Supreme court of canada agrees
neutrality is philosophically impossible,
which is good news for people of faith.
canada, like all countries, has a plurality of insti- tutions its citizens participate in: family, place of worship, business, school, government, voluntary
associations. Every one of these is oriented by a religion
or faith – ultimately who or what they serve – as well as
being shaped by the surrounding culture.
How we try to manage all this as a
society, a task often faced by all levels of
government, can quickly trigger vigorous
public debate. Often people search for a
neutral standpoint or neutral method to
deal with diversity. This is where a recent
Supreme Court of Canada judgement becomes important.
It states that “trying to achieve neutral-
ity in the public sphere is a major challenge
for the state” and “We must also accept
that, from a philosophical standpoint, ab-
solute neutrality does not exist.”
As Christians, we agree. There is no neutral place. It is our
confession, in the words of the Apostle Paul about Christ:
“He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”
Neutrality is an attractive fiction. It would make life
much easier if it were possible to step above the diversity
and from the vantage point of neutrality treat all fairly. But
the Court has acknowledged that’s impossible. Govern-
ment action cannot be perfectly free of bias. The same is
true in the media – the idea of “journalistic objectivity” is
now widely recognized as an unachievable ideal.
The Court made this admission after a case about mandatory religious diversity education in Quebec known as
S.L. v. Commission scolaire des Chênes. The EFC intervened
it is better to
than ignore it.
and i agree.
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in the case because of the mandatory nature of the educational course.
The Quebec government basically argued it is better
to include instruction about religion than ignore it. And
I agree. In the late 1990s an education commission here
at the EFC promoted this approach. Religion is a vital
aspect of the lives of Canadians. To exclude it from the
curriculum sends the message that it may not be an integral part of life or that it is a private matter and therefore
best shunned from the public square and from education.
The challenge is to help students understand the religious
diversity that surrounds them without teaching them that all
religions are the same or favouring one religion over others.
Either would make the mandatory nature of the course problematic for parents and children of deep religious conviction.
As our provinces develop and teach
such curricula, we must keep in mind the
point made by the Court: there is ultimately
no neutral ground, no non-religious standpoint from which to teach about religion.
The Court went on to encourage a
“realistic and non-absolutist approach.” It
explained that “state neutrality is assured
when the state neither favours nor hinders
any particular religious belief, that is, when
it shows respect for all postures towards religion, including having no religious beliefs
whatsoever, while taking into account the competing con-
stitutional rights of the individuals affected.”
This means governments are to be realistic and respect-
ful towards religion.
Yes there may be biases in the curriculum as well as in
its delivery. But we – as Christian parents and citizens – can
work with governments and schools to minimize these occurrences and to decide on a good process for handling problems
of bias. This is realistic and can be done respectfully.
In the end, parents still have the primary responsibility
for the education of their child, and they must have the
freedom to opt out of the portion of any curriculum that
contravenes the teachings of their religion – something
the Court neglected to affirm.
Yet our parental responsibility can also be expressed
in looking for opportunities for constructive participation
with governments and schools to find good ways of educating children about religion. FT
Bruce J. cleMen Ger is president of The Evangelical
Fellowship of canada. read more of his columns