National Affairs Rory Leishman

National Affairs Rory Leishman

At the beginning of another school year, the parents of children in the public schools of Canada might well earnestly reflect upon what their children are likely to be taught about the vital issues of faith and morality.

Fifty years ago, there was little reason for concern. Parents could have confidence that teachers in the publicly funded Catholic and non-denominational public schools would teach their students to respect the fundamental principles of Judeo-Christian morality that have underpinned the survival and flourishing of Western civilization.

Today, of course, parents can have no such confidence. Thanks to the 1988 ruling of the Ontario Court of Appeal in Zylberberg vs Sudbury Board of Education, God was banished from the public schools of Ontario.

Prior to Zylberberg, every school day in Ontario began with recitations of the Lord’s Prayer and readings from sacred Scripture. From time to time, students were also instructed to respect the rules of morality as summarized in the Ten Commandments and ordained by God for our well-being.

At the request of parents, students were exempted from the classroom during these explicitly religious exercises, but that is not good enough for the judicial activists who have dominated public policy in Canada for the past 25 years. First in Ontario, but soon in all other provinces, these overweening judges decreed that the longstanding practice of offering optional religious exercises in the public schools violated the guarantee of freedom of religion in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Those rulings are entirely illegitimate. There is nothing in the language or the history of the Charter to suggest that it was intended to banish God from the classroom. Nonetheless, our elected legislators have gone along with this judicial distortion of the Charter. As a result, instead of expounding the principles of Judeo-Christian morality, teachers in the public schools are now required to try to teach their students to be good without God.

That’s fine with atheists like Richard Dawkins. In his bestseller, The God Delusion, he asks: “Is it always wrong to put a terminally ill patient out of her misery at her own request? Is it always wrong to make love to a member of your own sex? Is it always wrong to kill an embryo?”

Dawkins thinks not. “Fortunately,” he writes, “morals do not have to be absolute.”

In the past, teachers in the public schools would have disagreed. They could have been counted upon to explain to students that it is always wrong to kill deliberately an innocent human being or to indulge in sexual intercourse outside the bonds of marriage between a man and a woman.

Today, any teacher who insists on teaching such moral truths to students in the public schools could be fired.

Not even the publicly funded Catholic schools can still be relied upon to uphold the traditional principles of Judeo-Christian morality as expounded in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The problem is that all too many teachers and supervisors in the Catholic schools have been imbued at university with essentially the same value-relativism as their counterparts in the secular public schools.

Moreover, it’s not just our publicly funded schools and universities that have been morally debased. Today’s young people are also steadily bombarded with immoral exhibitions on prime-time television and through the internet.

What, then, can be done? Tens of thousands of Christian parents, both Catholic and Protestant, have abandoned the publicly funded schools in favour of providing their children with a morally enlightened and comprehensive education at home.

Other parents have resorted to private Christian schools, while many seem to hope that regular attendance at Sunday school will counteract the pervasive influence of value relativism. Neither of these approaches is sufficient.

Homeschooling in at least the fundamental tenets of Judeo-Christian morality is essential to providing today’s children with a solid grounding in moral truth. Instead of relying entirely on the church and the schools, parents must provide systematic instruction in the home on the basic tenets of both faith and morality, if they are to have any reasonable hope that their children will grow up with the vital protection of a clear understanding of the difference between what is right and what is wrong.