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Ontario doesn’t have just one publicly funded school system. We actually afford ourselves the luxury of a public school system and a taxpayer-funded sectarian school system, namely a Catholic school system. The reasons for this are historical, and they are well known. The Confederation pact included a deal that guaranteed the Catholic minority in Ontario a publicly funded school system. It was defended at the time as a means to ensure religious freedom for the Catholic minority in the province.
The reality is that genuine freedom of conscience — as opposed to mere religious freedom — can only be sensibly guaranteed in a society operating a strict separation of state and church(es). The state has no business in funding or subsidizing sectarian educational outlets, hospitals and other institutions. If a religious organization wishes to run its own school or hospital, well, it should put up the cash for it or go away if it is unable to find it. It cannot be that in the 21st century huge amounts of scarce tax monies are provided to religious, ideological educational outfits that preach values that contradict what modern Canada stands for in the world. On anything from reproductive rights to end-of-life issues to marriage equality, the Catholic Church consistently finds itself not only on the wrong side of history, but it also propagates views that the majority of us don’t share. And that is putting it mildly. The very nature of Catholic ideology puts it at loggerheads with anti-discrimination legislation in the province. I am sure you have not forgotten, either, how Catholic school boards across Canada tried to prevent girls in their schools from getting access to the cervical cancer preventing HPV vaccine. The usual Catholic hangups about sex came in the way of protecting girls efficiently from cervical cancer. That kind of nonsense is what our tax monies provide financial backing for in Ontario.
A promotional video produced by Ontario’s Catholic schools has been making the rounds on the Internet during the last few weeks. It features a bunch of students, parents and teachers working in these schools, praising their superior moral education. A lot has rightly been made of the fact that this video implicitly claims to provide a superior education due to the religious values it transmits to its students. Religious organizations, and the Catholic Church is not a unique case here, have always had a keen interest in getting their hands on children. Long-term survival of these ideologies depends on being able to indoctrinate young people at an early age, while they are still impressionable. Despite claims to the contrary by the Ontario Catholic schools that used this video to promote themselves to prospective students and their parents, it is clear that their proposition is that not only are their schools better, but also that their graduates are better human beings courtesy of their ideological religious indoctrination. This is surely offensive to anyone who went to a public school who doesn’t share these particular sectarian values — that would be most of us.
You cannot help but marvel at the guts these marketers of all things Catholic clearly possess. There they are, representatives of an organization whose senior staff spent decades protecting child-molesting pedophiles among its staff across the globe. The German historian Karlheinz Deschner produced a 10-volume opus magnum dedicated to the criminal history of the Roman Catholic Church. Bits and pieces of his detective work are available in English translations, I do recommend them to your attention if you are interested in this issue at all. Even if only half of the horrors he documents in those volumes are true reflections of what actually happened, there can be no doubt at all that the Catholic Church and its representatives should really spend more time reflecting on their own organizational misconduct than on telling us how we ought to live our lives. We certainly should not deliver our children into their schools, and we certainly should not provide tax monies to them in order to ensure the indoctrination of future generations of children with this particular ideology.
The United Nations Human Rights Commission (www.cbc.ca/ontariovotes2007/features/features-faith.html) reportedly agreed in 1999 that Ontario’s exclusive funding for Catholic schools and no funding for other religious organizations’ educational outfits discriminates unfairly against non-Catholics. That said, the situation is worse than it looks. Catholic schools actively discriminate against non-Catholic teachers for employment purposes — using our tax monies to do so — while Catholic teachers are, of course, welcome in our public system. The result is a significant overrepresentation of Catholic educators in the school system.
Sectarian schools are divisive. The video I mentioned earlier features a number of students clearly feeling superior over their public school counterparts, because of the Catholic values that they have internalized courtesy of years of indoctrination. What they ought to have learned is that there is a variety of competing religious ideologies, what these ideologies preach, what their histories are, and so on and so forth. What they shouldn’t have been taught year after year after year is that a particular ideology is true. Cohesive societies are impossible to build under such circumstances. It is obviously unjust to financially privilege Catholic schools only. Seemingly, the Roman Catholic Church sees nothing quite wrong with being in such a privileged situation. It’s this understanding of morality, of course, that has given this particular church such a bad reputation in most developed nations. And don’t take my word for it, the last leader of the church, Pope Benedict (www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2041638/Pope-admits-questionable-reputation-Catholic-church-final-day-Germany.html) conceded that the church these days has a “questionable reputation.”
Konrad Yakabuski, in a www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/chapter-and-verse-catholic-school-fundings-unfair/article16462714/ commentary penned for Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper, argued this week that public funding for Catholic schools in Ontario ought to end. We should have a debate in Ontario about a school system that we clearly cannot afford any longer and that surely is not fit for purpose. We face declining enrolments, a result of our changing demographics, yet we continue to run a school system that was conceived in very different times indeed. It is time to end public funding for Catholic schools. The majority of Ontarians agree. Consistently, opinion polls indicate that the majority of us want to see public funding for Catholic schools gone sooner rather than later.
Udo Schuklenk is a philosophy professor at Queen’s University, his most recent book is “50 Great Myths About Atheism” (co-authored with Russell Blackford, Wiley-Blackwell 2013). He tweets @schuklenk.