Secularist group give Catholic school students 'get out of religion class' coupons

The humanist group Secular Ontario is planning to distribute "get out of jail" coupons to remind Catholic high school students that participation in religious study subjects is not compulsory.(Metro News/Secular Ontario)

A secular humanist group in Ottawa, Canada, is preparing to hand out coupons to students in Catholic high schools to tell them that religion classes are optional and not compulsory.

According to Metro News, the group Secular Ontario sent the publication an email stating that they will position themselves outside of schools to distribute the coupons to students at the close of classes in the afternoon. The group also said that their supporters "will be on public property in front of a selected publicly-funded Catholic secondary school."

The coupons contain a quote from the Section 42 (13) of the Ontario Education act, which states that a Catholic school board must not compel its students to enroll in programmes or courses that involve religious study provided that their guardians or parents apply for exemption in writing.

According to Secular Ontario, school boards allegedly make the classes that involve religious study as mandatory. The group also claims that people who apply for exemption for their children are "hassled" by the respective school boards.

"We see it as both a violation of the Education Act and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms," Secular Ontario member Henry Biessel told Metro News.

Biessel recalled that former Premier Bill Davis' extension of funding for Catholic secondary schools came with the understanding that no one will be forced to attend religious instruction if they choose not to. This understanding was also written into law, Biessel said.

"I object, personally, to paying taxes for religious instruction," Biessel related to Metro News.

Secular Ontario will also carry out a protest, the location of which it was to reveal on Thursday.

The Ottawa Catholic School Board's Director of Education Julian Hanlon told the Metro that they process applications for exemption on a "case to case basis."

The school also said it "would not do anything about a peaceful protest off school property that did not impede the safe flow of student, staff and vehicles in and out of the school property."