Catholic Religion Class Exemptions as Discussed on CBC

Today, the CBC call-in show, Ontario Today, discussed exemptions from religion classes in Ontario Catholic Secondary Schools. This episode is a follow up from the August show that spoke about the Borgstadt family. This family invested 8 months pursuing an exemption for their son.

Before the call-ins started, the host, Rita Celli, played an interview with Kyle Naylor. Kyle Naylor maintains the highly informative web site,, to help families exercise their legal right to exempt their kids from religion classes in Catholic schools. Kyle explained that religion is not mandatory in Catholic schools and that exemptions are part of the funding extended in 1985 along with open access. Kyle also related the experiences of the many people he helps, who report that although the exemption right applies upon written request, in practice, the Catholic school boards often attempt to make things difficult by stalling the process or telling parents that the exemption means that the student cannot attend their graduation ceremony because there are religious components to these ceremonies.

One Catholic School Board Trustee even admitted to Kyle Naylor that the Catholic School Board is very afraid of exemptions because the next obvious question is, Why are we funding four school boards in Ontario? Why indeed.

The following statement from the President of the Ontario Catholic Trustees Association seems to support everything Kyle Naylor says:

Catholic School Boards consider each request on a case by case basis and make decisions within the context of the education act that serves to address the needs of students and parents.

Really? The process seems cut and dry – fill in the request, get the exemption. It’s part of the Eduction Act, so why must each request be “considered on a case by case basis”? Here is the relevant portion of the education act (which you can also find on Kyle Naylor’s site):

42 (13) …no person who…attends a secondary school operated by a Roman Catholic board shall be required to take part in any program or course of study in religious education on written application to the Board of the parent or guardian of the person.

There are a couple of things that bothered me about this whole discussion on Ontario Today.

  1. This particular exemption discussion avoided the more important question that Kyle Naylor touched on at the end of his interview and the last caller brought up before the show ended: why are we funding four school boards in Ontario? It seems CBC has skirted this issue over and over. CBC can’t be afraid to have an open and honest discussion about public funding to Catholic schools because they reported that the UN finds it discriminatory, so why not have a more in-depth discussion?
  2. The host, Rita Celli, asked a couple of times if the callers were “Catholic school supporters” on their property taxes. This has absolutely nothing to do with exemptions and is a tad misleading. Many people think that the little box that you tick when you vote in municipal elections determines what school board your taxes go to; this is untrue. That box is for electing school board officials. The province funds both the Catholic and public system and they hand out funding based on a funding formula. We all pay for both the Catholic and public system, regardless of affiliation.

Here is a link to the entire Ontario Today episode, called A problem with getting out of religion class. Many of the callers supported what Kyle Naylor said – Catholic School Boards typically engage in a lot of stalling to the point that, for some, it was too late to get out of religion classes because the school semester had already begun.

For more information about the history of Catholic school funding, take a look at this very well reasoned article. And don’t forget to take a look at Kyle Naylor’s site, and the OneSchoolSystem.Org site for more information.

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