Catholic schools are outmoded

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Ontario should scrap its outdated Catholic school system and replace it with a model that provides a subsidy to all religious groups.

Last week, the Globe and Mail published an editorial that was heavily critical of Ontario’s Catholic schools. The Globe also published an online poll asking respondents if they support public funding for Catholic education. While the Globe is responsible for the latest skirmish over religious education in Ontario, the overall debate is longstanding.

Catholic schools in Ontario are fully funded while other religious schools flounder due to lack of funds or charge students a hefty amount to attend. In 1999, the United Nations admonished the Ontario system for its selectivity in education. The UN is correct: Ontario should fund all religious schooling equally or create a completely secular school system.

As it stands, some parents send their children to Catholic schools because they believe it will provide a more disciplined, religious or socially conservative environment. Still, others seem to want their children in a more culturally homogenous setting. In some areas, parents prefer Catholic schools because they receive more funding than public alternatives.

Most of these motivations are either reprehensible or short-sighted. While there exists a fundamental right to religious education, it shouldn’t be fully funded by taxpayers. Similarly, cultural homogeneity is something to be avoided rather than encouraged with public money. Moreover, inequalities between schools would be softened if Ontario’s current school system was eliminated in favour of a completely secular one.

Ontario’s system was originally established to ensure that a large Catholic minority would have its religious freedom protected during a more sectarian period in our history. Now, however, Ontario is a much more secular society with many different religious groups.

While reforming the current system may be tough because it would require a long battle and a constitutional challenge, it should at least be attempted. The creation of one secular school system would be an improvement on the status quo. A more realistic option would see religious schools of all faiths receive a set amount of funding.

Ontario should abandon its current system of Catholic schools as they are a relic from a societal context that has long passed. Our values have changed and, as long as we’re going to have religious education at all, we should cater to new religious groups that deserve funding every bit as much as Catholics.

Journal Editorial Board

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