By Kaitlin Davella
As heated debate about the place of religion in the public sphere captivates new sources and energizes social media outlets across Quebec, McGill is gearing up for a discussion of its own. This time, the dialogue will focus on the school system as a site where the interests of the state and the citizen collide.
“Religious Freedom in Education,” a Pluralism, Religion and Public Policy symposium, will take place next week, from Oct. 3-5. Sponsored in part by the Faculty of Religious Studies, the symposium will bring together a diverse set of experts in the fields of law, education and religion who will explore the topic together.
According to conference organizer Douglas Farrow, of the Faculty of Religious Studies, the symposium was prompted in part by a recent Loyola High School court case in Quebec, now on its way to the Supreme Court. The case raised crucial questions about our understanding of religious freedom, and the responsibilities of the state in the education of children. Delving deeper into these issues, “Religious Freedom in Education” will encourage dialogue on topical issues such as the authority of the family within the classroom, religious identity in the public and private spheres of education, and the possibility of neutrality in teaching.
Although planned prior to the controversial proposal of the Quebec Charter of Values, the symposium has become all the more relevant in recent weeks. The McGill campus has been buzzing with debate over the divisive Charter, which seeks to ban the wearing of overt religious symbols by public servants. The immediacy of the Charter to the McGill community became even more apparent last week, when Principal Suzanne Fortier released a statement affirming the importance of religious freedom and diversity. Farrow welcomes dialogue about the Charter next week, explaining that it will influence particularly the opening night, which will question collective values in society. However, he noted that “the Charter represents only one way in which the issues of this conference come together,” and hopes the weekend will have a have a Quebec core, but a national and international scope.
The list of contributors is impressive and wide-ranging, including the likes of Mary Anne Waldron, a legal authority on religious freedom in Canada and author of the acclaimed Free to Believe: Rethinking Freedom of Conscience and Religion in Canada; Paul Donovan, Principal of Loyola High School; and David Novak, seasoned scholar of religious liberty from the University of Toronto. Also slated to speak is McGill’s illustrious Charles Taylor, whose views on secularism and recent statements on the Charter in Quebec are sure to stimulate debate. Adding a modern twist to the symposium, an innovative video-conferencing system will be used in order to add important voices from around the globe to what is sure to be a fascinating conversation.
The “Religious Freedom and Education” symposium will take place Oct. 3 – 5 at McGill University with the Saturday session hosted by Loyola High School. For more information, please click here or email Juli Gittinger.
To register, please click here.