God isn't ecumenical. He spells out exactly what he is, in Exodus 20: 4-5. "You shall not make yourself an idol," he tells prospective worshippers, "for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God."
When a jealous God talks about religion, he doesn't say: "Hey, six of one, half a dozen of the other." On the contrary, he commands his followers to regard him and his cosmology as the truth, and view others as being in error. Those who worship idols are idolaters. This doesn't mean bash their heads in, or give them false measure, but it may mean pray for them, and it definitely means don't tell your children: "Oh, it's all the same."
Jealousy isn't the only thing religion is about, but it's certainly one thing. "Thou shalt have no other Gods before me" is the second commandment in the Hebrew bible. In the Christian bible, it's the first.
God speaks plainly; Supreme Court justices speak legalese. They're different languages. If one looks for an innocent explanation of why the Ottawa Nine ruled as they did last Friday in S.L. v. Commission scolaire des Chênes, this may be it -- though the real reasons are probably a little more complex or sinister.
Without blinking, the full court held that it's okay for Quebec's education minister to compel believers to describe God to their children, not as they see him, but as non-believers do. It does no injury to their Charter guarantee of religious freedom.
Hmm. What exactly is religious freedom, if it isn't teaching God to your children as you see him? The justices didn't say.
"Held without blinking" may be an overstatement. While Chief Justice McLachlin didn't move a muscle and neither did Justices Binnie, Deschamps, Abella, Charron, Rothstein and Cromwell, Justices LeBel and Fish did squirm a little. In a separate opinion, they wrote that they didn't intend "to conclusively uphold the ERC [Ethics and Religious Culture] Program's constitutional validity." With that and two bucks, religious parents can buy a cup of coffee, but still, in a famine a morsel is a feast.
Here's the background. In 2008, Quebec's provincial education ministry saw fit to replace religious instruction in elementary and secondary schools with a curriculum of its own. The state's foray into ethics and metaphysics serves up the children's spiritual inheritance, from aboriginal to Catholic, as a mess of pale pottage, nutrition-free and values-neutral. Attendance is mandatory.
About 2,000 parents requested to have their children exempted from having to take their religion from the state. The government and its minions circled the wagons. The parents lost in every forum, from administrative tribunals to the Quebec Court of Appeal. One case, identified by the initials of the Catholic appellants as S.L. and D.J., finally reached the unfriendly shores of the Supreme Court of Canada.
Like most courts and tribunals below, Canada's top court sees its task as defending the state against the rights and freedoms it guarantees. Madam Justice Marie Deschamps, speaking for the nine justices, didn't make too many bones about the court's priority being policy over law. "The suggestion," she wrote, "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."
Pardon? Is replacing religious classes with liberal pap an educational obligation? If so, Quebec failed in its obligation until 2008. Maybe, just maybe, we aren't talking about education, but ideology. Two ideologies, in fact: (a) The religious citizen's ideology that's protected by the Charter; and (b) the statist government's ideology that's protected by the courts.
Bills of rights don't warrant that governments can do everything they regard as beneficial; they warrant that governments can't infringe the rights of individuals. It shouldn't matter if a fundamental right did amount to the rejection of a government policy. I don't think it does in this case, but even if it did, what's our Charter supposed to guarantee, multiculturalism or religious freedom?
Silly question. It wouldn't be asked by anyone who went to law school. Section 27 of the Charter tells us that the document, "shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians." That's vague. But it doesn't matter: As any lawyer could explain, our Charter guarantees whatever our judges say it does.
The ruling graciously reassures parents that they're "free to pass their personal beliefs on to their children if they so wish." Well, thank God for small mercies. It's certainly more than parents can do in North Korea. But what about parents having to send their children to be indoctrinated in values different from their own? Sorry, says Justice Deschamps, "the early exposure of children to realities that differ from those in their immediate family environment is a fact of life in society."
Well, er, no, it isn't, Judge. Early exposure is very much under parental control in any society, except in tyrannies.
Canada is turning into a theocracy with its own jealous God: The smug, self-worshipping state. Lower-court judges are its acolytes; high-court judges its bishops. The Charter? It's still available in courthouse washrooms for purposes of personal hygiene. No, I'm not Catholic, or even religious. Only appalled.