Religious Freedom in Education


A Pluralism, Religion & Public Policy Symposium 

3–5 October 2013




Education is one of the chief interests of families, of religious communities, and of society and the state; it is both a field of cooperation between private and public bodies and, by nature, a primary cultural and political battleground. It has long been a legal battleground as well, particularly where religious issues arise. From the famous 1940 Minersville case in the USA, for example, to the current Quebec case, Loyola v. Courchesne, the courts have been asked to adjudicate the boundaries between family, religion, and the state. The UDHR (art. 26), the Toledo principles, and various international covenants seek to provide guidance in negotiating these boundaries. The purpose of this symposium will be to explore the question of religious freedom in both public and private education.

NB: The information that follows is subject to correction or change. 




* via Bluejeans video conference, courtesy the Tony Blair Faith Foundation




Symposium Schedule



Thursday 3 October    McGill University



3:15–4:15   Registration (Newman Centre)

4:45 pm      Religion, Education, and the ‘Crisis’ in State Neutrality         (Moot Court)

  • Welcome: Ellen Aitken
  • Address: Benjamin Berger
  • Respondent: Solange LeFebvre

6:15 pm       Reception (Newman Centre)

7:45 pm       Secularism, Religion, and Societal Values (Moot Court)

  • Chair: Paul Donovan
  • Panel: Charles Taylor and Daniel Turp

How do we determine our collective ‘values’ and principles? What role does religion play in such determinations in societies that regard themselves as 'secular'? And how far is it the responsibility of teachers and educators to reinforce (rather than re-engineer) collective values? 



Friday 4 October  McGill University (Birks Chapel)



9:30 am       International Perspectives on Freedom in Education

  • Chairs: Paul Donovan, Dia Dabby
  • Panel: Iain Benson, Philippe Gaudin, Ian Leigh, Ian Linden, David Novak

Tensions respecting education in socially and religiously diverse environments exist in many nations. How are the competing interests of the state, the family, and religious communities being negotiated in other western countries?  What are the best resources and strategies for finding a solution to difficult issues? Have the Toledo Principles proved useful? Should the discourse of human rights (per UDHR art. 26, ICCPR art. 18.4, ICESCR art 10.1 and 13) be our focus or should our attention be turned elsewhere, perhaps to more locally devised solutions based on the principle of subsidiarity?

 11:00 am     Religious Education as a Site of Violence

  • Chair: Asif Iftikar
  • Panelists: Mawlana Ammar Naasir, Ismail Qureshi, Saleem Safi

Violence has been cultivated both by certain forms of religious education (in Pakistan, e.g., or London) and by the suppression of religious education (in Tibet, e.g.). What principles and protocols can be followed in liberal democratic societies to negotiate successfully between the Scylla of an anti-pluralist demand for conformity and the Charybdis of an unregulated pluralism?

 12:30 pm      Lunch 

1:15–2:15  A Place at the Table? 

  • Lunch-time Forum on the Voices of Children and the Role of Families
  • Chair: Blair Major
  • Presenters:  Dia Dabby, Jonathan Waind

Are the voices of children being heard? How are they recognized and interpreted at law, by educational institutions, by government bodies, etc.? What about parent’s voices? This forum will seek to locate children and families in the discussion of religious freedom in education. 

2:30 pm      Culture Wars: Majority v. Minority Values

  • Address: Mary Anne Waldron
  • Respondent: Daniel Weinstock

4:00 pm   What can be taught neutrally? (Can religion, ethics, sex, or law?)

  • Chair:  Douglas Farrow
  • Panel: Janet Epp-Buckingham, Ian Jamison, Kevin McDonough, Shauna Van Praagh

The claim is made by the Quebec Ministry of Education that ethics and religious culture must be taught neutrally or non-confessionally.  An analogous claim is made in various places that sex education should be delivered without reference to any particular moral framework. Again, the claim is made (by the Canadian Council of Law Deans) that a confessional school is no place for a recognized law program. How are we to understand such claims? What does it mean to teach ‘neutrally’? Are public institutions more likely to achieve objectivity, at least, than private or religious ones?


Saturday 5 October  Loyola High School (Atrium)



9:30 am      Faith and Religion at the Supreme Court of Canada: where we were, where we are, where we’re going

  • Welcome
  • Address:  Eugene Meehan
  • Respondent: Mary Anne Waldron

11:00 am     Loyola v. Courchesne: What really is at stake?  

  • Chair: Victor Muniz-Fraticelli
  • Panel: Paul Donovan, Daniel Weinstock, Mark Phillips

This case, currently before the SCC, brings together questions about the nature of religious freedom, the role of religious institutions in public education and their relation to the state, whether such entities can qualify as legal persons claiming rights and freedoms, and much more. What are the competing ideas of religious freedom in play in Loyola? How might the Court's decision affect religious education throughout the country?

12:30 pm     Lunch

1:30 pm      Does it still make sense to speak of religious freedom?        

  • Address: Douglas Farrow
  • Respondent:  Victor Muniz-Fraticelli 

2:45 pm     General Forum




Conference Committee

  • Prof. Spencer Boudreau (Education)
  • Prof. Daniel Cere (Religious Studies)
  • Mr Paul Donovan (Loyola)
  • Prof. Douglas Farrow (Arts and Religious Studies)
  • Mr Blair Adrianus Major (Law)





  • Newman Centre:  3484 Peel Street, H3A 3T6 (map)
  • Moot Court: New Chancellor Day Hall 3644 Peel Street, Room 100, H3Z 1W9
  • Birks Chapel: Birks Building, 3520 University Street, H3A 2A7
  • Loyola High School: 7272 Sherbrooke Street West H4B 1R2 (map)




Juli Gittinger:  juli.gittinger [at] 





  • Conference Fee:  $150 / Students $50 (taxes included)
  • Day Registration:  $60 per diem
  • Individual Sessions: $20 / Students $10 (space permitting)

To register:



Conference Report