By Jason Menard
A group called the Multi-Faith Coalition for Equal Funding of Religious Schools is demanding that the Ontario government provide financial support for all religious education system – but what they’ve done is open a Pandora’s Box which may result in the final separation of Church and State when it comes to education.
As it stands now in this province you have the existing Public and Catholic school boards. Grandfathered in from time immemorial, or Confederation in 1867, the Roman Catholic school board has been guaranteed funding. And now, as our communities change so too must we look at what’s fair in a new light.
Because we’ve always done it is no longer a valid argument. To deny one faith the right to have their religion-based education system funded smacks of discrimination. In fact, in 1999 a United Nations committee found that Ontario was violating the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
So, in this case, equality is the right thing to do – but there are two ways to get there. We can either provide funding for all religions to establish school boards and run educational systems – or we can cut off the flow of money to the Catholics.
While in a perfect world we’d be able to offer across-the-board-funding, the fact of the matter is that we don’t have the necessary resources to be everything to everyone. Which makes the choice clear – one publicly funded school board open and accessible to all, and those who want their children educated in an alternative system will have to foot the bill on their own.
In this country, the only two types of school boards that should be funded are ones based on language – English and French, befitting our status as a bilingual nation. We are a secular society and, as such, our government has no place in defining its practices – or funding programs – based on religious beliefs.
Maybe, at one time, it made sense to offer a separate Catholic school board due to the religious demographic makeup. But increasingly Ontario is benefiting from an influx of immigrants – many of whom are representatives of a wide variety of religions. By choosing to publicly fund one religion over another, we are in fact tacitly affirming their second-class citizen status. But it’s not just enough to cut off funding and wash our collective hands of the teaching of religion in the classroom – that would be depriving our children of a valuable learning opportunity. Instead, we need to get creative with our education system and work towards developing a curriculum that meets the needs of today’s reality and anticipates the requirements of the future.
Instead of guaranteed funding for one religious system, the Ontario government, and those of all provinces around Canada, should redirect those resources towards the creation and implementation of a new program in our school system – the teaching of faith.
The issue of religion in the school system is a touchy one for many. There are those who would love to see a return to the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in the public system and the distribution of those little red New Testaments. And that’s truly a fine proposition – as long as they’re accompanied by little blue Talmuds, little yellow Qurans, and a rainbow of texts outlining the belief systems from around the world.
We need to stop focusing on one religion at the expense of another. Atheist, agnostic, Christian, Buddhist, Islamic, Jewish, or whatever — we all will benefit from a generation that has grown up learning about each other’s religions, beliefs, or lack-thereof. Intolerance and hate breed from ignorance. Understanding the shared concepts of religions, in addition to where they differ, will bring us closer together as a people.
And, by teaching faith, we are in fact bringing out students closer together. We would enable students with different religious beliefs to share their stories, their particular practices and rituals, and their history with their classmates – opening them up to a greater world of understanding. In addition, beyond learning the respective tenets of the various belief systems, our students would be able to explore the nature of faith and why it has existed since the earliest humans. An examination of why certain people believe will help gain insight into the human character.
The world around us is changing rapidly. And, as our world becomes increasingly multi-cultural, a learning system that embraces all belief systems from Atheist to Zionist would help our next generation learn about tolerance and prepare them for an increasingly integrated society.
We are less segmented and our cultural fabric is interwoven with threads from a variety of races, creeds, and religions. And not one thread is more important than another – which is why, in an all or nothing proposition, the Ontario government must choose nothing at first, and then work to develop a public program that includes all for the benefit of everyone.
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