Religion classes still creating divides

More than a year after a religion course became mandatory for all Quebec elementary and high schools, the program remains a source of controversy.
A panel of religious educators discussed the topic during last weekend’s American Academy of Religion annual meeting, held in Montreal. The “Ethics and Religious Culture” course, was created to help break down barriers between students from different religious and cultural backgrounds by connecting home life and education.

“The reality is that kids live in a multicultural society,” said Deacon Anthoony Mansour, Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for Ecumenism, a group that promotes Christian unity and interfaith dialogue. “We can hide from it, which is not going to help, or we can put everyone on the same footing by eliminating prejudices.”
Anne-Marie De Silva, an elementary school teacher with the English Montreal School Board, is a big supporter of the new program. “It allows kids who practice other religions to have a place in schools,” she said. “It validates them.”

But not everyone had such a positive opinion. Some parents and teachers adamantly objected to the course when it was first introduced. Critics charged that the course confused children and that teaching about other religions could contradict religious beliefs.
“This program takes them [teachers] away from their comfort zone,” De Silva said, highlighting how some teachers lack the training needed to teach the course.

The parents’ main concern was the confusion the course might create for students in terms of their religious identity, according to Mansour.
Consequently, tolerance was one of the major topics discussed at the meeting. “It’s about challenging people to go beyond expressing opinions by giving different perspectives and points of view,” said speaker and McGill educator Ron Morris.

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