On April 18 (2017) the Edmonton Separate School Board received a very informative staff report (We are Called to be Leaders of Hope and Mercy: the Hands and Feet of Christ -- Religious Education in Edmonton Catholic Schools).
On its face, Alberta’s Constitution does not permit any religious instruction in either public or separate schools, except during the last 30 minutes of the school day, nor does it allow any school to require any student to participate in religious instruction, nor does it allow any school to deprive any student of any educational benefit for declining to receive religious instruction.
The report provides some helpful understanding of what is happening in one separate school district. The report makes clear that the work has been mandated by the Bishops of the Church, with the expectation that it will be replicated in separate schools across the province (and across Canada).
Discrimination in employment, enrollment, and governance
Basically, separate schools will not hire a teacher (or, likely, anyone who works in their system with children) if the person is not an active Catholic, living a life that is consistent with the doctrine of the Church. In practice, this means that certificated teachers who are not Catholic are excluded from employment in a large segment of the school system that is entirely taxpayer supported. (The same teachers compete with Catholic teachers for positions in the public school system, which is blind to religious affiliation.)
Question: How should teachers in Alberta be advised about this discrimination in employment which is otherwise contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and contrary to provincial employment and human rights legislation? Is this discrimination legal?
Although it is not referenced in the report, separate school systems practice discrimination in at least two more ways.
First, non-Catholic parents whose children may be enrolled in a separate school system may not vote for the separate school trustees who will govern their children’s education. In other words, they have less parental involvement in the governance of their children’s education than if the children were educated in a public school, a charter school, or a private school.
Question: Should non-Catholic parents be formally advised that they will be unable to vote for separate school trustees (or to stand for election themselves) even though their children attend a separate school?
Second, separate schools do refuse to enroll non-Catholic students if those students have exceptional needs or have parents who are ‘high maintenance’.
Question: Should non-Catholic parents of students be formally advised that the enrollment of the students in separate school is entirely at the discretion of the separate school system and their is no appeal from any subsequent decision by the board to refuse to continue the enrollment?
Promoting and subsidizing religious education for employees, in denominational institutions
In addition, there is a growing expectation within separate school systems that each employee will continue lifelong learning in the Catholic faith. While this is called “professional development” it is, in fact, faith development, and it is financially supported by the separate school board, using taxpayer money. Separate school systems, at the urging of the clergy, are promoting a Masters degree in Religious Education, from a Catholic college, and subsidizing the cost of the degree. The cost of the subsidy flows to a Catholic college.
The reason is straight-forward. As the report says: “Catholic schools also play an important role in the evangelization and the mission of the Catholic Church. For many students, the Catholic classroom will introduce the faith not only to them, but also to their parents and caregivers. It is hoped that the Catholic classroom will draw the family into the life of the (Catholic) Church.” (emphasis added. page 2 of the report) Religious education in separate schools is introducing children (students) to “the faith” in the form of Catholic ecclesiology (understanding the faith through a sympathetic understanding of the doctrine and liturgy of the Catholic Church).
And, “Knowing that a Catholic education is more than the religious education curriculum, we look at these (general) curricular competencies through the lens of a Catholic worldview… These learner competencies articulate the unique way in which students who experience the richness of Catholic education approach all subject matter, thus permeating (the Catholic) faith into their learning (emphasis added). (The report’s covering memo, page 2)
Question: Should separate school boards be permitted to use public funds to provide a discriminatory financial inducement for teachers to enroll in a denominational college to take a denominational religious education program?
Evangelization follows permeation.
According to the report, separate schools have a mandate to promote the Catholic parish, and the parish has a mandate to send parishioners into the school as mentors and models for the students. The stated intention is to foster a connection between the student (and the student’s family) and the Catholic parish.
“The parish, in turn, supports the efforts of the school in its mission of evangelization by participating in faith instruction wherever possible.” (the report, page 3) “Catholic schools are … also the connection between the home and the parish. Schools are advocates for the parish and support its efforts to bring the Gospel of Christ to the families it serves. The parish, in turn, supports the efforts of the school in its mission of evangelization by participating in faith instruction wherever possible. Individual members of the parish, both clergy and lay members, provide valuable lessons in faith and outreach and serve as role models for students.” (the report, page 3)
Question: Should separate schools be used to promote evangelization (recruitment) for a particular denomination? Should the non-Catholic parents of students be formally advised that the separate school system permeates the teachings of the Catholic Church as much as possible in all teaching experiences, and encourages the involvement of the Catholic parish in the life of the school for the purpose of facilitating evangelization?
Preparation for the Sacraments (page 3 of the report)
“The Standards for Preparing Children and Youth for the Sacraments (Standards) in the Archdiocese of Edmonton are the result of the Sacramental Education Initiative set forth by the Archdiocese and the Catholic school board chairs and superintendents. The Standards have been developed after four years of wide consultation with priests of the Archdiocese, pastoral assistants, religious consultants, parents, principals and teachers in our Catholic school divisions.
The Standards provide pastors, pastoral assistants, and catechists of the Archdiocese with a framework for preparing children and youth for the sacraments. The Standards are intended to harmonize the preparation practices in parishes throughout the Archdiocese
Over the past three years Edmonton Catholics Schools and St. Joseph’s Seminary have partnered together to place seminarians in our schools as part of their pastoral work. Generally the seminarians visit their respective schools once a week and participate in the schools’ activities by assisting with liturgies, classroom routines, and religious education projects.”