The CCLA is intervening in the case to stand up for the religious freedom of individuals and, in particular, to affirm that the test to be considered by the Court when a freedom of religion claim is raised is the “sincerely held belief” test. Although the court below looked to religious doctrine and testimony from religious experts, the CCLA argues that using this evidence to decide whether a breach of freedom of religion has been established is fundamentally flawed. Freedom of religion is intimately linked to personal liberty and autonomy, and therefore must include the right to deviate from some of the practices and beliefs which may be considered mandatory by religious officials or leaders. The CCLA acknowledges that not all exemptions sought by parents will be feasiable or reasonable, but argues that school boards must consider opportunities for reasonable accommodation when religious freedom has been breached. In this case, that may include considering alternative curriculum options that would fulfill the curriculum’s goals and considering the best interests of the student where their views may come into conflict with their parents.
On May 18, 2011 the Supreme Court of Canada will hear arguments in S.L., et al. v. Commission scolaire des Chenes, et al. This case will consider whether a school board’s refusal to exempt students from a portion of the curriculum violates freedom of religion under the Canadian and Quebec Charters. The controversy arises out of Quebec’s Ethics and Religious Culture curriculum which is mandatory for students in Quebec at most grade levels. Some parents have objected to their children being exposed to the course, arguing that it is not neutral with respect to religion and that requiring their children to participate in the curriculum is a violation of their religious freedom, which includes the right to raise their children according to their faith. The parents have been denied the exemption at each stage, and have appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.