In September 2008, after years of pre-planning by elites without public consultation, Quebec’s Ministry of Education established a province-wide, compulsory pedagogical program called Ethique et Culture Religieuse (ECR).

All Quebec students—public, private, even the homeschooled—must take ECR (with the exception of one secondary school year) from age six through high school.

On its sunny face, the ECR program introduces students to the rich variety of religious beliefs and rituals in today’s “intercultural” Quebec, where all citizens “live together in the bosom of a Quebec [that is] democratic and open to the world.”

But a newly landed bombshell amongst Quebec’s chattering classes, a study produced by Ethnic Studies PhD candidate Joelle Querin for the Institut de Recherche sur le Quebec, persuasively argues that the ideology behind the course is anything but benign, reinforcing concerns about this troubling program I expressed in these pages last December.

Following a close analysis of the course’s stated objectives, content, teachers’ roles and suggested activities, Querin pulls no punches in her conclusion: “I wanted to verify if the course gives knowledge to children or if it indoctrinates them. I observed that it was the second alternative that prevailed.”

Two values dominate the program’s objectives: learning to “vivre ensemble” (live together) and arriving at the “bien commun” (the common good). How does ECR produce social harmony? By constant “dialogue” and “recognition” of other cultures, which can only be accomplished, in the words of ECR mandarin Georges Leroux, by inculcating in children “absolute respect for every religious position.”

But according to ECR, “every religious position” includes pagan animism, witchcraft (Wiccans “are women like any other in daily life”), and the nutbar Raelian Movement ( “technologically, [the Raelians] are 25,000 years in advance of us”). To bundle superstitions and cults together with authentic religions, then demand deference to all, is to discourage actual respect for any but the state religion of “normative pluralism,” the real aim of the program.

In its indifference to objective knowledge, in its crusade to hallow cultural relativism and a strictly Charter-of-rights based identity, ECR stimulates heritage students’ detachment from their own cultural touchstones, and chills critical thinking in all students.

Guerin cites, for example, one instance where students were invited to redesign the Quebec flag, replacing the cross with a more “inclusive” symbol, and another, an activity called “Youpi! Ma religion a moi!” (my own religion!) in which religions actually invented by students are accorded the same esteem as real ones. Such subversive pedagogical impulses dismissively mock Quebec’s unique culture, based, like all others, in a shared language, religion and collective values formed over time.

In the ECR scheme, teachers do not actually convey knowledge, but rather “plan, organize activities, advise, accompany, encourage, support …make suggestions, but never impose.”

But they must and do “impose” sometimes. The program harps relentlessly on “dialogue” as the principal vehicle for learning to “vivre ensemble.” But if, according to an editing team spokesman, the dialogue does not follow a politically correct script—that is, if students of independent mind or critical point of view diverge in behaviour or words from the prescribed “recognition” mantra: all cultural traditions are equal; all beliefs are good—“The teacher must intervene immediately to stop it on the spot. Any attack in class on the dignity of the person or the common good must be immediately denounced, because it is not tolerated in our society. In that [respect], the program of Ethical and Religious Culture is not neutral.”

Thus Guerin darkly warns: “After having followed the ECR course for 10 years, the students won’t have a great knowledge of religions, but one thing is sure: no [cultural] accommodation will seem unreasonable to them.”

A May 2009 Leger marketing poll on ECR found that 76% of Quebecois prefer a choice in religious education; they think their elites have shown contempt for the population. Many parents are demanding ECR exemptions, if not outright abolition of the program. Grassroots resistance movements—strange bedfellows of anti-clericalists, practicing Catholics and nationalists, each with their own support network—are pushing back through political activism, the media and the courts .

As well they should. ECR is a creepy state foray into social engineering. Disguised as multicultural feel-goodism, the program is in reality the utopian Quebec Left’s strategic plan for societal transformation. Their tactics: the appropriation of parents’ natural and rightful authority over their children’s religious upbringing; the willful erosion of children’s pride in their Quebec patrimony; and the slow suffocation of students’ inherent curiosity and intellectual autonomy.

If Quebec does not wish to end up in the sick ward of Western cultures, ECR must be excised in the operating theatre of popular resistance.