Catholic School Students in Ontario, Canada, Can Opt-Out of Religion Classes

Based on a recent human rights settlement case with the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board, Catholic school students in Ontario, Canada, can now opt out of religion classes.

Claudia Sorgini, a student at St. Theresa’s Catholic High School in Midland, Ontario, filed a discrimination complaint in 2016 when the school refused to let her take other courses in place of religion classes. Eventually this led to a settlement via the Human Rights Tribunal.

The standard protocol for Catholic schools in Ontario is to teach religion classes. Some took issue with this because since 1982 Ontario Catholic schools have received public funding through the Constitution Act, Section 93.

Only half of the students at St. Theresa’s are Catholic, and about one thousand students were part of the standard religion classes.

Sorgini accepted the classes as mandatory until her senior year, when she made the formal request to enroll in a science course in place of the religion class. It is instructive to note Ontario banned public prayer in the public school system in the 1980s, so religion classes as explicitly optional would seem a likely next step.

Sorgini reported feeling pressure to halt any attempts at exemption from the course. And once the switch from religion to science class was granted, she says she faced retaliation that made applying for scholarships and attending high school prom more difficult.

The school board denied the claims. However, the Human Rights Tribunal wanted the rules for opting out to be as transparent and easily understood as possible, and it kept the board accountable to their original process of religious class exemption and ensured that Sorgini (and other students who wanted an exemption) got one.

The settlement read, in part: “Students who apply for the exemption will not be asked to provide any reasons for their request, nor attend any meeting with school or board officials as a precondition to the application being recognized and accepted.”

Some cases of opt-outs still require parental approval, but the settlement encourages the other twenty-eight English Catholic school boards to adopt these updated policies.

The atheist community welcomes the news that Canadian Catholic schools have lost some influence to indoctrinate children, adding hope to the future of international irreligious movements.