Montreal

Parents challenge Quebec ethics course in court

A court case that will test Quebec's controversial mandatory ethics and religion course opened on a dramatic note Monday when one of the plaintiff's key witnesses fainted as he took the stand and was forced to submit his testimony in writing instead.

A court case that will test Quebec's controversial mandatory ethics and religion course opened on a dramatic note Monday when one of the plaintiff's key witnesses fainted as he took the stand and was forced to submit his testimony in writing instead.

The witness's parents – who can't be named because their children are minors – are challenging the mandatory course in Quebec Superior Court, arguing it should be optional for students who hold different religious views.

Their children are currently taking the "Ethics and Religious Culture" class as required under new Quebec rules that took effect in September 2008.

The mother, who took legal action against the course, believes its contents are too relativistic and confusing for children who are receiving religious instruction outside the school.

When her eldest son was called to the stand Monday in front of a packed courtroom in Drummondville, he complained of dizziness as he walked toward the witness box.

He fainted just as his mother rushed to his side, prompting the judge to rule the boy could submit a written statement instead of being questioned about his experience in the class.

He is one of tens of thousands of Quebec students taking the ethics course, which was designed by Quebec's education ministry to replace moral and religious education classes from Grade 1 to Grade 11.

The curriculum focuses on academic instruction of ethical, religious and cultural matters, including Quebec's Catholic and Protestant religious heritage, as well as other faiths represented in the province, including Judaism, Native spiritualism, Islam, and Hinduism.

Several parent groups across the province have taken issue with the course because they say it contradicts religious beliefs of many families.

They have organized protests to draw attention to their point of view.

A group of parents in Granby, east of Montreal, went so far as to order their children to boycott the course, which resulted in the students' temporary suspension.

The parents are fighting the suspension in court. The judge assigned to the case has said he wants to see how the Drummondville challenge turns out before ruling on the students' right to boycott.

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