Toronto – The Ministry of Education policy allowing only education about religion, effective from the beginning of 1991, has been the subject of mixed reviews.
It is seen by some as an attempt to be fair to all. Others view it as a non-solution to the problem it attempts to address. Under the new policy, boards of education are permitted to offer up to one hour about world religions, provided that no specific doctrine is given an advantage and there is no ‘indoctrination’.
Writing in the Toronto Star on August 2, 1991, Susan Walker points to instances where the policy appears to be “violated,” as she terms it. The Wentworth County Board of Education allows Bible clubs to operate during lunch-time while Eden Christian College in Niagara-on-the-Lake continues to odder religious instruction during the regular school day.
Earlier, an article in the Catholic New Times by Norma McCoy (Feb. 17/91) drew attention to the enormous task of designing suitable programs and providing the necessary teacher inservice training for such a program. She sees the need for sensitivity in such a broad spectrum of cultures, beliefs and traditions as presenting a giant challenge.
Ms. McCoy’s concern about the Ministry use of the term ‘indoctrination’ could be questioned, however. There are many who would insist that it is their duty to instruct students in, and imbue with, the doctrines of Christianity. They would not see this in any way as equivalent to “stifling inquiry, reflection and personal judgment.”
David Satok, chairman of the community relations committee of the Canadian Jewish Congress is quoted in the Canadian Jewish News (December 13/90) as saying that he welcomes the decision to forbid indoctrinational religious education. At the same time he reiterated his group’s demand that Ontario fund independent religious schools, as has been done in other provinces.
Meanwhile the League of Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada is an intervenor in a recent court case objecting to the use of the Lord’s Prayer and religious education. The B’nai Brith Covenant (Summer 1991) reports that after a meeting with former Education minister Marion Boyd on June 24/91, the League is contemplating court action in order to force the Wentworth Board to abandon the lunch-time Bible club.
The drive to remove all traces of Christianity from our institutions is not peculiar to the province of Ontario. In the Canadian Jewish News of August 8/91, Maurice Lucow reports approvingly that an attempt to bring back a “Christianity clause” to the Constitution of the social Credit Party of British Columbia at its recent leadership convention was unsuccessful. This clause, which required that “the universally recognized principles of Christianity” be promoted by the Party, had been removed from the constitution at the annual convention last year after a Jewish member claimed that it was a form of discrimination.
It is ironical that, meanwhile, symbols of other religions are gaining official acceptance in our institutions. RCMP officers are permitted now to wear Sikh headdress and Sikh students may now wear ceremonial daggers in school. The Toronto Sun (Aug. 13/91) reported that the Peel Board of Education had been denied its request to appeal a ruling favouring the wearing of the daggers. A Toronto Star editorial (April 6/91) referred to the actions of the Peel Board as a waste of taxpayers’ money.
“Once again, Canadians were told that pluralism and multiculturism mean believing in nothing else but a secular vision for the country,” said the editor of The Interim in December 1989 when discussing the furore surrounding the attempt to remove the Christianity clause from the Sacred constitution.
It seems there has been no change in this pressure during the past couple of years. If we are to maintain a true sense of multiculturalism and religious freedom, then surely Ontario should move to fund all schools, not just the public and Catholic systems.