A coalition including Roman Catholics and Protestants are reportedly urging parents of students in Quebec primary and high schools to demand their children be exempt from taking a required ethics and religious culture course. The course teaches “the important place of Catholicism and Protestantism in Quebec’s religious heritage, discover[ing] the contributions of Judaism and native spiritualities to this religious heritage, and learn[ing] about elements of other religious traditions more recently found in Quebec society” — such as Islam and Hinduism.
Opponents argue that it will only confuse children and that it goes against the principle of parents’ freedom of choice in their children’s education. What do you think?
Parents of faith might actually find these courses helpful in training their children to further the cause of Jesus Christ. Believers are called by God to reach our neighbors with the good news about Jesus. To do this we must understand the religious and moral influences that keep others from Him.
Paul understood non-Christian culture. He quoted their poets when he preached. He understood their worship practices. He understood the cultural standards of Jews and Gentiles and observed them, while never compromising “the law of Christ.”
His purpose in this understanding and sensitivity was clear: “I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22, New American Standard Bible).
As for the schools’ responsibility, public education is a function of human government that is divinely established as “a minister of God . . . for good” (Romans 13:4).
To do good, schools must keep their focus on the fundamentals of education, not on side issues that are too often merely vehicles for those with “politically correct” agendas. When teaching such obviously controversial topics, schools must openly communicate specific course contents to the parents.
Schools must always respect the religious sensitivity of parents and families knowing that before God it is the parents who bear the final authority in the child’s life. If the parents want to exempt their children from such nonfundamental courses, they should be allowed to.
PASTOR JON BARTA
Valley Baptist Church
In Islam, there is a high value placed on education and learning about other people, which would include learning about their religious traditions. “O Mankind, God has created you from a single pair of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is the one who is the most righteous of you,” Koran (chapter 49, verse 13).
Teaching about religion in public schools as culture and history can be very positive if processes are in place that allow specific concerns to be addressed. The coalition in Quebec should not object conceptually to teaching about religion in public schools, but it should require that stereotypes or activist agendas do not creep into the education curriculum. Cautionary measures must be put in place to ensure that this is not a means of religious proselytization for a particular religion, negative stereotyping of another, or putting down religion altogether.
In California, public school textbooks used to contain very negative and inaccurate information about Islam and Muslims. Shabbir Mansuri, a parent of middle school daughters in Glendale in the late 1980s, was appalled by what he saw in seventh-grade textbooks about his faith.
Long story made short, he founded the Council on Islamic Education ( www.cie.org) in 1990, which provides resource materials and education to public school teachers on Islam. Since this engagement with public school education, the teaching of Islam in public schools has generally been positive and accurate.
The Quebec coalition should therefore focus on making specific corrections rather than a blanket objection to the Quebec providence curriculum on religious culture.
Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge
I’m not comfortable with the idea of the state or government mandating religious instruction in schools.
In this instance, the Quebec Education Department wants to require all students in public and private schools to take a course that highlights the important role of Catholicism and Protestantism in Quebec’s religious heritage, and the contributions of other religions such as Islam, Judaism and Hinduism.
While the subject matter of the course may be worthy of consideration, I believe this is a decision that should be left entirely up to the parents or students, if they’re mature enough. It’s my understanding that currently in the Quebec school system, students can take a class on Catholicism or Protestantism and a more general class on moral education.
But these classes are offered as electives and not mandated by the government. It seems to me that parents and students should be given the same option for this other class. That is, they should be allowed to opt out if they choose to.
The whole issue reminds me that here in this country we cherish the notion of religious freedom, which includes the idea of the separation of church and state.
This principle is derived from the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . .”
While the precise meaning of these words is sometimes debated, it clearly prohibits our government from mandating religious instruction in our schools.
I’m grateful for that.
Glendale Adventist Medical Center
I believe that spiritual teachings should be included at all levels of schooling since they are essential to education and healthy development.
However, in pluralistic Western societies where students of various beliefs are learning together, there must be a clear understanding of what constitutes a sound approach to religious study.
I understand the fears of parents who want to keep their children out of an ethics and religious course that teaches a multitude of beliefs and ideas.
As I’ve written previously in this column, an all-inclusive approach to spiritual teachings can easily become empty and devoid of any genuine content. To avoid potentially offending anyone, the material would need to be very general in nature and include little significant substance — thus defeating the whole purpose of the course. While I feel it is important to teach children tolerance for other beliefs, I don’t believe there is a need to actually delve into teachings that aren’t part of one’s religious convictions.
The best approach might be to create an arrangement similar to the Released Time program practiced at U.S. public schools: This program provides an opportunity for students to spend an hour of school time each week studying religious lessons — off campus.
These courses are provided by local religious institutions like synagogues, churches or mosques, and parents enroll their children in classes devoted entirely to their own faith.
Here in the United States, where we have a strongly defined separation between church and state, it is hard to imagine religion being taught in a public school.
But we may have taken this worthy principle too far. While in Quebec, the argument is not whether religion should be taught, but rather in what form; here in the U.S., it seems that we’ve reached the opposite side of the spectrum — to the extent that even a benign moment of silence is banned and labeled as “religious” in nature.
It is time to revisit the importance of spirituality in our schools and seek a way to introduce meaningful lessons without compromising our Constitution.
Allowing some degree of spirituality in the classroom may ease the prevalent violence afflicting many public schools, and might help our plummeting levels of education.
RABBI SIMCHA BACKMAN
Chabad Jewish Center
As a parent myself, it is my prerogative to opt my child out of any school subject I disagree with as part of my child’s education, whether it be sex education, home economics or other. This applies to either public or private school curricula.
That said, I view Quebec’s schools offering classes about world religions a positive.
There are many reasons to offer classes on world religions today.
The most important would be to balance extreme political, propagandized views, which promote exclusion, intolerance and hate of another race or culture based on a difference in religion. Second, all religions teach universal truths for living a path to salvation. These include: the golden rule, the karma of what you do to others is returned to you again, the practices of charity, and compassion for one’s neighbors — all of which promote peaceful living.
By learning about world religions, a student is relieved of confusions. Understanding the religious practices of others develops viewpoints and allows each student to establish personal judgment.
Ignorance and fear are powerful motives that can close the heart and mind to different ideas. But in this case, taking a class on world religions, fears can be replaced by answers. Lesson topics can provide many stimulating discussions at school, home and church.
One’s own religious traditions and liturgical practices can take on more meaning when studied in the context of world history, geography and other religious practices.
Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard encouraged the pursuit of truth and personal observation with, “The wise man tests before he talks. The critic but follows the fad of a cynical and apathetic age.”
Let curiosity and interest, not fear, dictate a school curriculum that best answers questions about the world’s religions of today.
Glendale Church of Scientology
I agree that the parents should be allowed an exemption from this new law going into effect in Quebec this coming school year.
It demands students from grade one to the last year of high school take a course on “Ethics and Religious Culture.” This includes public and private schools and also those in home schooling. This new law overthrows the current law, which allows parents to choose an ethical course, which is Catholic or Protestant, or one which is without religious content. Quebec is mainly Catholic, and approximately 75% of the parents of elementary school children choose Catholic classes.
Many parents justly fear that children will be confused. These parents don’t like instruction for first- and second-graders equating homosexuality with normal family life. They also sense that this mandated course puts religion under the control of the state and infringes on basic parental rights.
I think there is a growing tendency in the Western world to be so obsessed with “non-discrimination” that it ends up denying or ignoring the faith and culture, which made us so prosperous. Step back and look at some of what that faith and culture accomplished in the last 20 centuries: our schools and universities, hospitals and healthcare, scientific achievements, freedom, peace and women’s rights. All these stem from our basic Judeo Christian faith. God has greatly blessed us, and we should rejoice in it and give him thanks. We should not deny that which makes us who we are.
THE REV. GENE FRILOT?
Incarnation Catholic Church
I understand that up until now Quebec had not three, but four “R’s” of educational curricula: reading, ’riting, ’rithmetic and religion. To make good citizens, religious morality was taught along with other basics, and separate classes were provided to accommodate Protestants, Catholics and “the rest.”
This differs from America’s system. We have no religious indoctrination in public education, so if parents want this benefit for their children, they send them to parochial school, church and teach at home.
My son attends Skyward Christian School in Tujunga with the expectation that the whole learning environment will reinforce his faith. Some non-Christian students also enroll because their parents are hoping good biblical ethics will rub off on their kids, and Skyward is happy to accommodate this as part of its mission.
Our neighbors to the north, however, have been walking a tightrope between the religious and secular, and it’s become unmanageable and inadequate. What they are essentially now doing is putting the onus of religious training back on the parents (like here) and focusing their energies on terrestrial rather than celestial verities. Because they don’t wish to deny the cultural contribution of religious faith and morals (unlike here) these will now be subsumed under the more generic banner. It makes sense. Rather than trying to be all things to all people, they simply educate “about” religions instead of indoctrinating the myriad groups. I’m guessing the hope is that common morals will cultivate through ethical discussion, thus building understanding and unity amid the growing diversity of Canuck population.
I can’t fault the state for doing its job, nor would I think it harmful to learn about differing views. It may even kindle revival as families wrestle with contrary spiritualities, clarify their own, and engage culture on new levels. This could turn out to be good, eh?
THE REV. BRYAN GRIEM
Montrose Community Church
The attempt by the school board seems to me a good idea in this age of religious and ethnic diversity.
Also, the parents also have a legal right to opt out if they so choose.
For me it is encouraging that our neighbors to the north are struggling with the very same issues that we have: multiple religions, multiple cultures, multiple ethnicities.
I believe the only way we are all going to live in harmony is to hear the other guy’s story, and to claim that so much taught diversity to children will only confuse them doesn’t give our young people very much credit. They can set the VCR, can’t they? They can text-message easier than we can, can’t they? They can also handle a multi-ethnic course. Think about it: Chances are that they already live with diversity.
So what’s the big deal if they are now going to read about it?
THE REV. C. L. “SKIP” LINDEMAN
Congregational Church of the Lighted Window
United Church of Christ
La Cañada Flintridge