As school resumed this September, the Ontario Court of Appeal was being told that the Elgin County School Board is indoctrinating children in the Christian faith. Lawyer John B. Laskin, representing the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, was appealing a lower court decision that neither the curriculum nor provincial regulations authorizing religious education violates the Charter of Rights.
In 1963, Laskin said, 7-year-old Andrea Millington had nightmares that the devil was after her; her parents, members of the Baha’i faith, found that she was being taught religion twice a week by a member of a local Bible club. When they asked this man to modify his teachings to include other religions, he insisted that he would continue teaching “the truth.” The Elgin classes have been altered since the legal proceedings began in 1986, but one reference work is “My Favorite Bible Studies.” Also some instruction offered by the board includes memorizing verses from the Bible. Laskin told the court that the C.C.L.A. does not oppose education courses about religion, but objects to the promotion of one particular religion.
In response lawyer Blenus Wright, representing the Ontario government, argued that religious education is designed to educate, not indoctrinate, and that if its opponents are successful in their challenge it will mean the end of all forms of religious education in Ontario public schools. The regulation requiring school boards to devote two half-hour periods a week to religious education dates back to 1944, and was “intended to be a vehicle for introducing moral and personal values as an essential part of the education of pupils in the public schools.” If some boards are permitting indoctrination, they are contravening the regulations.