Calling multiculturalism a reality in our country, the Supreme Court denied the claim made by the parents that their religious rights were violated by a Quebec ethics and religious class that teaches children about different faiths.
When handing down the judgement, Justice Marie Deschamps made that loud and clear: "The suggestion that exposing children to a variety of religious facts in itself infringes their religious freedom or that of their parents amounts to a rejection of the multicultural reality of Canadian society and ignores the Quebec government's obligations with regard to public education." Well said.
Not only is the parents’ panic at the thought of their child being exposed to someone else’s faith preposterous, it’s a fundamental rejection of the multiculturalism this country prides itself on. Since when is being exposed to a different or even contradictory set of values an inherently bad thing? Why are some people reacting with such terror at the thought of their children being subjected to the teachings of different religions? Why is the mere thought of another’s faith being treated as equal to your own so repugnant?
But then again, religious zealots, whether they take the form of the Taliban, the Bible- thumping Evangelicals down south, or any orthodoxy intent on proving your way wrong and their way right, will always fight to the death any attempts to enlighten and teach kids to think for themselves. Because, when it comes to religious fanatics, critical thinking simply won’t do!
And here lies the crux of the problem. High-quality critical pedagogy teaches – and ultimately requires - children to be critical thinkers; to be sceptical, to question, to not swallow whole and without analysis any theory or belief they are given. Religious bigots, on the other hand, don’t encourage questioning; they encourage conformity and unchallenged faith. The two are, at their very essence, incongruous and unable to co-exist.
Why is the mere thought of another’s faith being treated as equal to your own so repugnant? -
However, if Quebec's goal is to foster increased tolerance and understanding between different cultures and religions, it’s imperative that such teaching start at the very beginning; in elementary school. It would be inherently contradictory that we, as a society, would be advocating more tolerance and understanding of our differences, yet we would resist the opportunity for our children to be exposed to and understand the ideas of others. With its decision, the Supreme Court has taken a clear –and a very welcome- stance on the issue.
At the end of the day, this profound uneasiness that some seem to have with the ethics and religion course seems to me a tad hypocritical; a contradiction of sorts for those who profess complete and utter faith in their respective belief system. Isn't fear as a knee-jerk reaction a supreme sign of doubt?
If your values can't stand a little scrutiny, a little debate and a little comparison to other religious values out there and if you, as a parent, have so little faith in your ability to instil those values in your children, then how strong can these values possibly be?
Whether you worship in a church, a mosque, a synagogue or a temple, you owe it to yourself and to your children, who will have to make a life in an increasingly multi-cultural and multi-religious environment, to expand your horizons. Knowledge does not weaken faith; it weakens prejudices and misunderstanding.