Jun 1, 2011 – 6:30 AM ET | Last Updated: May 31, 2011 7:36 PM ETBy Graeme Hamilton
MONTREAL — A new Quebec government policy prohibiting religious instruction in subsidized daycares contravenes the federal and provincial charters of rights, a group of parents claims in a legal action filed Tuesday.
Saying they do not want to send their children to daycares where Noah’s Ark is banished and traditional songs are censored to remove references to God, the group representing Jewish and Catholic parents is asking Quebec Superior Court to declare the new guidelines unconstitutional.
Scheduled to take effect Wednesday, the policy would leave it up to inspectors to determine when the line between culture and religion is crossed.
“According to this new doctrine, Noah’s Ark is something you couldn’t have in the classroom any more,” said Sandy Jesion, a plaintiff in the case whose daughter attends a subsidized Jewish daycare in Montreal. “The story about the flood is not a problem, but the fact that God spoke to Noah and told him to build the Ark is religious, and under the directive you can’t do that.”
Danielle Sabbah, president of an association of 17 Jewish daycares in Quebec, said the policy is so vague that it will be impossible for daycare workers to know when they’ve crossed the line.
She said the director of a Catholic daycare has been informed by bureaucrats that the popular song Au clair de la lune can be sung as long as the final line — Pour l’amour de Dieu (For the love of God) — is dropped.
As another example, she said Jewish children could be told the Biblical story of Moses being rescued from the Nile, but they could not hear a word about the 10 plagues inflicted on Egypt, central to the celebration of Passover. “We cannot have anything that mention miracles or acts of God,” Ms. Sabbah said.
Isabelle Couët, whose daughter attends a daycare run by a Catholic nun, said the centre’s long-running tradition of staging a Nativity play will have to end this Christmas.
Under a system created in 1997, parents in Quebec pay just $7 a day to send their children to state-subsidized daycare. The government covers the balance, approximately $40 a day. There are about 2,000 subsidized daycares serving children aged five and under, and of those roughly 100 offer some religious content.
Ms. Sabbah said that when the public daycare system was established, private Jewish daycares were encouraged to join the network and promised they would be able to maintain their identity.
But Quebec’s ongoing debate over the accommodation of religious practices in the public sphere has led to a secular push that has now reached the toddler set.
In the court action, the parents say the directive infringes on their freedom of religion. It bars access to subsidized daycare for all parents who want the services offered to their children “to conform to the religious values that they consider it essential to transmit to their children and to perpetuate within their families,” the court documents say.
Mr. Jesion said working parents depend on daycare to provide some of their children’s upbringing. “The daycare centre replaces the home, with daycare providers essentially standing in the place of parents,” he said. “As a consequence, parents should be allowed an option where the values, cultures and traditions of their families are present.”
Yolande James, Quebec’s Family Minister, said she will respect the outcome of the judicial process, but she stands behind the changes. “Society has accepted that the teaching of faith is not in the public school system, and the same principle is applicable here in the subsidized daycare system,” she said in an interview. Parents seeking religious instruction in a daycare are free to choose a facility that receives no government subsidy, she said.