A Catholic school board in a Toronto suburb is in a legal battle with parents who want their son to be able to opt out of religious studies.
It sure looks like the board – which like many others in Ontario – wants all students to take religious instruction, but the province’s own Education Act says there must be an exemption if it’s requested.
So why would a parent send their child to a Catholic school and not seek religious education? Simple: Oliver Erazo and his wife chose Notre Dame Catholic Secondary School for their children because it is the closest one to their home and it’s considered a decent place to study.
Before anyone complains that the Erazos are trying to force the school to stop teaching religious studies, it’s important to point out that they’re fine with the continuation of the class and they’re OK with Catholic ceremonies occurring at the school. They’re simply asking that their son be excused.
The boy has received a one-year exemption from the course and the family wants it recognized that they can opt out anytime under the province’s education laws.
Ontario has a strange school funding system because of laws put in place more than 100 years ago. Catholic citizens were assured that they could have their own schools and that those schools would be allowed to teach religion.
Having both public and Catholic systems may have seemed fair when almost everyone was either Protestant or Catholic, but it makes little sense today. There are many different religions practised in Ontario, but outside the public schools, only the Catholic system gets tax money.
The options facing Ontario all come with drawbacks that no political party is brave enough to countenance.
Getting rid of Catholic schools would cost many Catholic votes. Funding all religious schools equally would create a quagmire of paperwork and undoubtedly bring complaints about radical teachings or difficulty maintaining standards in very diverse systems.
So the status quo remains despite its obvious unfairness.
In the Erazos’ case, the local Catholic school board chose to accept the family’s taxes and accepted their son into the school. That makes it crystal clear that the board must teach the boy.
Maybe the problem for some Catholic school boards is that they have allowed so many non-Catholics into the system that they now need the taxes from the students’ families to run the schools properly. It would interesting to know if any school board in Ontario has reached a tipping point, where the taxes collected from non-Catholics are the difference between red and black ink on the balance sheet.
If that’s the case, it may spell the slow and unavoidable end of the Catholic system, brought about by a changing demographic. And pushing away non-Catholic students who won’t take religious studies will only hasten the financial crunch.
No political courage will be required if the separate boards cannot maintain themselves through the tax system. It’s only fair.
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