The Supreme Court of Canada has rendered its decision in the case of S.L. v. Commission scolaire des Chenes, a case in which parents sought an exemption for their children from Quebec’s mandatory Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC) course. The Supreme Court found that the refusal to grant an exemption did not violate the parents’ freedom of religion in this case. While the Court accepted that the parents had a sincere belief in the need to pass on the precepts of their religion to their children, the Court found that the ERC course did not interfere with this obligation in an objective way and therefore freedom of religion was not infringed.
CCLA intervened in this case to ensure that ‘sincerity of belief’ remains the approach to assessing freedom of religion claims. While the Court did affirm this test and rejected relying on religious experts or leaders, the Court’s statement that there is a need to show an infringement on an objective basis is somewhat concerning as it has the potential to dilute the protection of freedom of religion under the Charter. It remains to be seen what impact this decision will have on the protection of freedom of religion generally and ongoing issues around religion in the schools.