A man named Sam Dias is hoping for his daughter to be granted religious exemption at St. Andre Bessette Secondary School in London, Ontario, Canada. After a court recently upheld a ruling that non-Catholics could be exempt from attending religion classes, liturgies and retreats in Catholic high schools, Dias wants his daughter to be granted immunity under the the Education Act.
Even though Dias’ family was baptized Catholic, they are not generally religious and rarely go to church. His daughter Bessette, who is going to start attending the ninth grade at St Andre, is hoping to take a different course in place of the mandatory religion class. Following Dias’s lead, many other parents have started seeking religious exemption for their children. While Dias has been accused of using Bessette as a political pawn, he has insisted that the decision is as much hers as it is his.
“First and foremost I suppose it’s simply because she has the right to have that option, that’s why I want it. The reason she wants it is purely academic. She came to me and asked me simply of having to take religion, instead of taking religion I’d like to take something that would advance me in post secondary education, in university or college.”
The Education Act states that no student attending a public school will be required to study or read in or from a religious book or join any practice of devotion that the student’s guardian or parent obviously objects to. In case the student is an adult, his or her decision will be considered final.
According to the Act, “No person who is qualified to be a resident pupil in respect of a secondary school operated by a public board who attends a secondary school operated by a Roman Catholic board shall be required to take part in any program or course of study in religious education on written application to the Board from a parent or guardian — or that individual who has withdrawn from parental control or is 18 and older.”
In April this year, a panel of judges at the Ontario Superior Court ruled that students have the right to be exempt from religious programs. The Court also said students at Catholic schools who are entitled to being excused from religious courses must be granted the permission to do so. However, London District Catholic School Board has still not granted the exemption, saying students’ parents assign themselves supporters of Catholic schools on their property tax statements.
Dias clarified that he has changed whom he supports on his property tax statements, having switched to public schools from Catholic schools. According to him, the school board has no reason to delay making a decision.
“It’s part of the Ontario Education Act, people have a right to ask for this exemption, you don’t need to have any reason at all. The only thing that needs to be done here is the school boards have to grant these exemptions under the law. That’s the only issue here really, ultimately the reason for someone not to take religion is entirely up to them, and it’s personal,” he said.
Linda Staudt, director of the school board, will be making the final decision on Bessette’s case. Bill Hall, chairperson of the school board, explained that exemptions have been granted in the past but they are rare and usually apply to those who enroll their children in a Catholic system at the secondary level. Apparently, the exemptions are not applicable to those who have already graduated from a Catholic elementary school; these students are required to attend religion classes.
Dias said that he knows of other students in London who have been granted religious exemption and so he wants the same for his daughter. He said the school board is stalling the matter hoping that he will drop it in due time. While asserting that he will take the legal route if he has to, Dias is looking forward to the exemption being granted soon, hopefully before Bessette’s classes commence.
Photo Credit: Zuza