Concept 3: Freedom of Conscience and Religion

Section 2

Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
  1. freedom of conscience and religion;
  2. freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
  3. freedom of peaceful assembly; and
  4. freedom of association

The guarantees of fundamental freedoms are very important aspects of our democracy and carefully guarded by citizens and courts.

2(a) Freedom of Conscience and Religion

  1. Everyone has the following freedoms:
    1. freedom of conscience and religion;

Section 2(a) ensures that everyone is free to hold their own religious beliefs; this protection includes practicing one's religion.

School Contexti

Religious freedom is also raised when there is a conflict between school expectation and the practices of a particular religion. A religious requirement to wear a particular head covering, or to keep arms or legs covered, may conflict with the school practice of banning hats or a certain style of clothing inside the school or requiring that students wear specific gym attire. These types of conflicts between school conduct and religious practice may vary greatly, depending on the local approach to these issues in the school.


The cases contemplating freedom of religion in schools advocates a very flexible approach to school administration that requires the accommodation and protection of minorities. The recognition that s.2(a) protects individuals from the “tyranny of the majority”ii in both mandatory and coercive religious practices has led to an increased respect for religious difference in schools and the promotion of the secular aims of public education. This development promotes tolerance, and understanding in accordance with the rights-respecting culture in Canada. The court's decisions have required schools to accommodate religious difference. This accommodation has proved successful in many cases, setting a clear precedent that schools can and should adapt in order to respect rights. The limiting nature of these cases is in the framing of the right. Freedom of religion challenges are often raised by parents demanding their freedom to decide on the religious moral education of their children. The framing of the right as a student's right is less common, depending on the involvement of the student in claiming and advancing their right. While this area of Charter interpretation has resulted in dramatic changes in schools, it has not significantly broadened the understanding of students' rights.

  1. Based on the work of Sarah McCoubrey and Greg Sitch, The Charter in the Classroom, presented at the CAPSLE conference, St. Andrew’s by the Sea, New Brunswick 2002. This material is intended for legal education and is not legal advice. The authors do not take any responsibility for reliance on this material.
  2. R v. Big M Drug Mart Ltd., [1985] 3 W.W.R. 48 (S.C.C.), at 337.

Disclaimer - The resources presented in this learning tool, the Charter in the Classroom: Students, Teachers and Rights (CC: STAR) are included only to assist in the study of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They do not necessarily represent an endorsement of a position or issue, opinion or view of its contributors, the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Inukshuk Wireless, the Ontario Justice Education Network, the Canadian Civil Liberties Education Trust or any of the people, organizations, or institutions affiliated with it.