CLF: Government must not dictate to religious institutions how to teach (or not to teach) the very religion that animates their identity.

Christian Legal Fellowship (CLF) has filed written submissions to the National Assembly of Quebec regarding Bill 62, An Act to foster adherence to State religious neutrality and, in particular, to provide a framework for religious accommodation requests in certain bodies.

The Bill purports to foster adherence to state neutrality vis-à-vis religion through a variety of means, such as requiring “personnel members” (including government agencies, school boards, public health and social institutions, any Government appointee who exercises an adjudicative function, and others) and those receiving services from “personnel members” to have uncovered faces, specifying the procedure and requirements for religious accommodation requests, and prohibiting subsidized childcare providers from teaching religious belief, dogma or practice.

CLF's submission raises general concerns about the understanding and application of state neutrality in the Bill, noting that state neutrality is meant to encourage everyone to participate freely in public life. State neutrality demands respect for – and not extinguishment of – religious differences. By seeking to extinguish those differences and by favouring non-belief, CLF explains, this Bill undermines religious freedom, protected by both the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the Quebec Charter.

CLF has also raised specific concerns about the Bill’s prohibitions on religious childcare institutions’ ability to teach “specific religious belief, dogma or practice” as violating Charter-protected religious freedom. CLF explains that the Bill effectively imposes a requirement of non-belief on all faith-based childcare centres, which is contrary to the Charter, as per the Supreme Court of Canada’s holding in Loyola High School vs. Quebec.

In Loyola, the Supreme Court of Canada held that to tell a Catholic school how to explain its faith undermines the liberty of the members of its community who have chosen to give effect to the collective dimension of their religious belief by participating in a denominational school. The same principle, explains CLF, applies to religious educational childcare centres. It undermines the liberty and religious freedom of those parents who specifically choose religiously-informed childcare. As CLF's Executive Director Derek Ross and President Robert Reynolds state in the submission:

"The government cannot dictate to a religious childcare institution, even one that receives public funding as Loyola High School did, how to teach (or not to teach) the very religion that animates its identity. To do so would ignore the fact that 'an essential ingredient of the vitality of a religious community is the ability of its members to pass on their beliefs to their children, whether through instruction in the home or participation in communal institutions.' (Loyola, para. 64)."

The CLF submission explains that when the state adopts laws, it must do so in the context of making room for diverse communities who can hold and act on their religious beliefs. That diverse community must include space for faith-based daycare providers.  CLF also notes the various Covenants, Conventions and Charters that protect the parental right to pass on beliefs to their children and urged the Assembly to reconsider the proposed legislation.

You can read the full submission here (English) or here (Français).