Image: INCLO’s  Drawing the Line Report

On August 30, 2017, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) reported on a human rights case being heard by Argentina’s Supreme Court.  According to CCLA,

On Wednesday, August 30, the Argentine Supreme Court held a public hearing on the constitutionality of laws permitting religious education in the public schools of Salta province. As friends of the court, Argentine human rights group CELS and five other members of the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations (INCLO) explained how such practices violate human rights as well as the national constitution.

Under international human rights law, all states must protect the right of individuals to equality and non-discrimination as well as to freedom of worship or belief. At the same time, they must guarantee conditions that enable children and adolescents to develop their progressive autonomy so they can freely and fully exercise these rights. In public schools, where children are educated to form part of plural, democratic societies, it is essential that the state take a neutral stance on religion.

In its constitution, Salta province gives parents the right to have their children receive religious instruction in line with their own convictions, in the public schools. In an area where more than 90 percent of people identify as Roman Catholic, this is tantamount to forcing the majority religion on students who profess other religious beliefs – or none at all. Also, instead of giving precedence to parental preferences, special consideration should be given to Article 14 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which emphasizes children’s progressive exercise of their own rights and the rights and duties of parents to guide them in accordance with their evolving capabilities.

The arguments set forth in the INCLO amicus curiae brief refer not only to Argentina’s constitution and laws, but also to relevant court rulings on the separation of church and state and on public education from Canada, Hungary and the United States as well as the European Court of Human Rights. United Nations standards are also cited.

The case before the Argentine Supreme Court, known as “Castillo, Carina Viviana y otros c/Provincia de Salta, Ministerio de Educación de la Prov. de Salta s/amparo,” was initiated in 2010 by the Asociación por los Derechos Civiles (ADC) and a group of parents who filed suit against Salta province for imposing obligatory Catholic teachings during school hours.

INCLO members argue that the provincial state’s public schools must stop providing religious education altogether – whether during or outside regular school hours – and ensure that no public resources are spent on such teachings. Salta’s laws and regulations violate numerous human rights enshrined in international instruments that have constitutional standing in Argentina, based on the country’s 1994 charter reform. As a result, the Argentine Supreme Court should declare them unconstitutional.

While this Argentinian case is not itself a clear and direct example of free speech suppression, it is a valuable example of how deeply interconnected, and sometimes superficially conflicting, human rights matters can be.  Also, how cases in remote locations can reflect realities that are very close to home.

CCLA is a member of the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations (INCLO), an agency which draws its membership from national human rights organizations.  INCLO has published a 56-page document entitled Drawing the Line: Tackling Tensions Between Religious Freedom and Equality.  The report covers a variety of important matters ranging from reproductive rights to protection of religious freedom.

Religious freedom means the right to our beliefs. That right is
fundamental and must be vigorously defended. But religious
freedom does not give us the right to impose our views on others,
including by discriminating against or otherwise harming them.

From: INCLO’s Drawing the Line

Castillo, Carina Viviana y otros c/Provincia de Salta, Ministerio de Educación de la Prov. de Salta s/amparo presents a striking connection to the case of Dr. Richard Thain, a retired Ontario dentist who attempted to publicly advertise his opposition to Ontario’s public funding of Catholic school systems.  In 2014, Thain attempted to launch bus advertisements in the City of Winnipeg to coincide with the launch of Canada’s Museum of Human Rights.  Ironically, his advertising plans were shut down in an egregious example of censorship – itself a violation of human rights.

Currently, Thain continues to investigate legal options to defend his free speech rights and to oppose Ontario’s own example of systemically-ensconced human rights violations, the public-funding of Catholic schools in Ontario.

Image: Cover Art for INCLO’s Drawing the Line report.

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