On Facebook the other day (yes, amoment2think has its own Facebook page!) I shared an article via PhdinParenting (which I believe Annie wrote). It is about a recent announcement from the provincial government of Quebec that they will no longer provide subsidies for daycare’s which provide religious instruction. Here is an other article about the issue via the National Post to take a look at: Quebec Toddlers Can See Religious Symbols but Can’t Have them Explained. Take a read and then head back here.
So, as I mentioned on Facebook, I have been puzzling my thoughts on this all week. First some background. Quebec has a publicly subsidized daycare program, unlike the rest of the Canadian provinces. Other Canadian provinces subsidize some proportion of low income households, but does not guarantee $7/day daycare for all like Quebec does. (I’m jealous!) Also, many provinces provide some financial support to some religious primary and secondary schools via separate school board systems. (See some information via Wikipedia here.) Alberta has a “Public”, “Separate” (aka Catholic) and a “Charter” school system, all which receive some public funding. I know when we vote we indicate if we support the public or separate school system and I assume this has an impact on funding. This article via CBC is a great overview to the issues. Obviously, this is a much much bigger issue. And one that has been going on for a very long time. This change in policy in Quebec is just a catalyst to bring it all up again. Not to mention that Quebec has a unique culture and language and there are often debates there about culture, religion, language and the role of government.
Here are the issues as I see it:
1) Separation of Church and State
In theory, there is suppose to be a separation of Church and State. But in reality, that is not the case. Based on the articles I read in doing a bit of research into this issue, the Canadian Constitution does provide provisions for Catholic school boards in some Canadian provinces. Not to mention the non-secular experience of many students in Public primary and secondary schools across North America. (This post from Parenting Is Political about just that issue is very much worth a read.)
The question remains, to what extend should the government be funding education which is linked to religious instruction? Particularly if that funding funds some religious denominations and not others.
2) Tax dollars funding of Religious instruction
Further to that point, the natural extension is that if the government is funding religious education then, we, as tax payers are funding religious education. And, as I discussed in this post, there is a pretty negative view of religion in general in much of our society right now. So if you happen to be someone who believes that religion is all indoctrination and brainwashing- then reasonably you may be pretty upset that your tax dollars go to fund that. Or, if you are comfortable with religion, but question the teaching of it to children, preferring that religious education wait until they can make their own decisions; or prefer that if children are to be taught religion that they be taught a wide range of religions in a neutral manner and have the opportunity to make their own decisions about that information; again, this use of tax dollars may be concerning. If, on the other hand, you believe that religion is central to some peoples lives and/or cultural heritage or if you tend to be very supportive of religious education, you might be more inclined to not take issue with that use of your tax dollars.
3) Accommodation of Diversity
The next issue is to what extent should our government support diversity when it comes to religious education. What I think is interesting about the Quebec daycare case is that it involves daycare’s which are run by a diversity of religious organizations; Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Protestant. Unlike the Catholic primary and secondary school issue, where only one religious group is being supported in the education system, these daycare’s represent a diversity of religious organizations. Is allowing religious education to be a part of (very) early childhood education part of the reasonable accommodation of diversity? Particularly when all religions are welcome to be represented, so long as they have enough families who want to enroll their children in the program.
4) Parental Choice in how their children should be educated
So what is wrong with parents choosing to send their kids to religiously affiliated daycare’s with some component of religious education? If all religions can receive public funding and parents have full choice as to where to send their child and there are lots of daycare spots which are secular as well, then what does it matter? Is it hurting anyone? What is the harm? Part of the Quebec’s government’s argument is that it negatively impacts children’s ability to integrate into Quebec society. I find this argument odd. How is understanding and learning about your families religious background having a negative impact on integration into society? Furthermore, isn’t part of the value of Canadian style multiculturalism that people here are like a mosaic. Many people retain their cultural identity while fully participating in Canadian society.
5) Societal values regarding a secular society
I think what this really comes down to is our values around a secular society. Part of what got me thinking about this issue so much is wondering if the government has any right in dictating secular education? If parents want their children to receive particular religious education as a part of their educational curriculum, who is the government to say that that is not appropriate? Is that any more appropriate then the government dictating that children should receive a particular religious education? If there are parents out there that want to send their toddlers to a Catholic/Jewish/Muslim/Protestant/Buddhist/whatever Daycare, why should the government withdraw the funding for that? And as a taxpayer, why should I have say over how an other parent wants to raise their kid? So long as there is equal access to the service…
And I know, there is the argument that if parents want their toddler in a religious daycare program then they could pay for a private one (do they have those in Quebec?) But really that just means that the rich can choose how their child is educated but the poor can’t.
I really don’t know on this one. I do believe in parents having choice. And trusting in their choice. You know what is best for your kid and I know what is best for my kid. What business does the government have in imposing secularism in our lives? At the same time, our education system, which in Quebec includes the daycare system, is the business of the government. How we educate out kids with public funds is very much the governments business, and the government has to make decisions to that effect based on the values of the society. If Quebec’s political culture is one where secularism is a core value, then perhaps it is appropriate to dictate that in the education system. Although, if that is the case, I certainly hope that goes far enough to prevent the type of non-secular activity as described by Parenting is Political— if the government is not going to let religions provide religious education in their own daycare’s then let’s hope children from non-Christian religions do not have to feel alienated by our non-secular-secular public system. I think my major concern over all this that is should be one way or the other; either all religions have equal access to public funds for education from Daycare on to High school OR all Daycares, Primary and Secondary schools are truly secular. Or all teach a wide range of religious beliefs and practices. From my understanding, Quebec is trying to move towards all schools being truly secular. I wonder what those secular schools look like this time of year.