Conseil supérieur de l'éducation
Catholic Committee: Towards PLURALISTIC, CONVIVIAL Schools

by Guy Côté,
President of the Catholic Committee


On October 26, the Catholic Committee released a brief to the Minister of Education entitled Renouveler la place de la religion à l'école ("Renewing the place of religion in the schools"). This brief advocates making a series of major changes in terms not only of religious instruction but also of school organization and governmental structures. It takes an educational and social standpoint, setting out the raison d’être of religion in school in relation to the development of Québec culture and society as well as the educational and spiritual needs of today’s young people.


The European experience

The Catholic Committee’s brief also contains a study of the various ways that European education systems make room for religion in the schools. In most Western democracies, Christian traditions are taught in specific programs of studies, from the viewpoint of the search for spiritual meaning. Some countries, like the Netherlands, promote recognition of diversity by establishing confessional schools, among other things. They feel that the cause of cultural integration is better served thus than by levelling differences or marginalization in the private sector. Nations such as Belgium make a similar choice by offering a plurality of religious instructions in the public schools. Both experiences show that such policies are compatible with social conviviality. Even in France, where the Republican tradition tends to view schools as "the definitive forum for learning to overcome differences", there is a growing consensus that these differences, including various moral and spiritual options, must have a place and be expressed in public venues in general and in schools in particular. (See Marcel Gauchet, "Penser le pluralisme", in Le Monde de l’éducation, May 1999, p. 37.)


Religious diversity and social cohesion

It clearly does not seem necessary to consider cultural and religious differences as a threat to the social bond. The possibility of arriving at a solution adapted to Québec’s situation is rightly associated with the challenge of finding a satisfying balance between the recognition of religious diversity and the pursuit of social cohesion. The Catholic Committee is not alone in believing that it is desirable and possible to give the different denominations the right to instruction related to their particular tradition in public schools, based on specific conditions that would apply to all denominations. The Committee also feels it is necessary that schools encourage people to learn to live together in a pluralistic democracy and, in its brief, shows that these two objectives can be reconciled, both sociologically and practically speaking.


A reasonable interpretation of the principle of equality

In the current debate on the place of religion in the schools, the obstacle to the hypothesis of extending rights to other denominations is based on an interpretation of the principle of equality that would apparently oblige us to make it possible for religions to be taught in the public schools. It goes without saying that this is tantamount to making such recognition impossible to put into practice. However, if religious instruction were subject to criteria that the State legitimately could and, indeed, should define, the aberrations so greatly feared would be avoided.

In its brief to the Minister of Education and its report to the parliamentary commission on the place of religion in the schools, the Catholic Committee gives reasons justifying State definition of criteria allowing a particular religion to be taught in public schools. It also indicates measures that could be adopted to facilitate the management of a reasonable plurality of religious instructions

Panorama • Volume 4, Number 3 • November 1999


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