S.L. v. Commission scolaire des Chênes

In 2008, the Quebec government instituted the Ethics and Religious Culture Curriculum (“ERC”). The ERC was mandatory to all Quebec students and purports to teach ethics and all religions in an objective and unbiased manner. Many groups and individuals have argued that the ERC relativises religion, treating them each as a cultural phenomenon and all of equal footing. Many also challenged the ERC for taking God out of ethics. As a result of the ERC’s mandatory nature, approximately 1,800 applications for an exemption on religious grounds were sent to school boards across the province and to the Ministry of Education. All applications were denied using the same form-refusal letter. Two Catholic parents, S.L. and D.J., who had sought the exemption for their children objected and took the school board to court.

The Quebec government was successful at first instance and at the Quebec Court of Appeal. The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada intervened before the Supreme Court of Canada and argued for parental rights and freedom of religion. The EFC argued that Christians and other people of faith ought not to be excluded from the public square. In attempting to compel tolerance, the Quebec government was dispensing with it. Christian parents have the religious obligation to raise their children in the faith and to impose a relativistic state-mandated religious curriculum on those children violates the freedom of religion of the children, their parents and the teachers who are forced to teach it.

The Supreme Court’s decision was split 7-2. Writing for the majority, Justice Deschamps rejected the appeal and upheld the refusal of the request for exemption. She did not endorse the constitutionality of the ERC and noted that a future challenge could result in a different outcome. In this case, the parents argued that their freedom of religion was violated because their faith requires them to raise their children in the Catholic faith. The issue for Justice Deschamps was that the parents failed to demonstrate how exposing their children to the ERC would interfere with their ability to raise their children in the Catholic faith. Harm had to be demonstrated.

Click here for The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada’s factum.

Click here for the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision.