Concept 4: Freedom from Religion

Section 2

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 protection from having to participate in another's religion. This important distinction recognizes that those holding a minority religious view are often influenced by, or expected to participate in, the majority religious practice. A requirement to close businesses on Sundays is one example of how the religious freedom of individuals can be infringed when their activities (such as having a different 'holy day') are restricted by the majority religious practices. It is not only the freedom to hold a religious view that is protected, but also the absence of coercion and constraint to participate in another practice. However, freedom of religion is limited, or restricted by the rights of others. Actions are not protected by s.2(a) if they infringe on other people's right to fundamental freedoms or protection from discrimination.

Section 2(a) also protects freedom and conscience. Individuals are entitled to hold beliefs that govern their actions and relationship with others, but that are not religious in nature. Similar to religious freedoms, this protected right is limited by the extent that it infringes the rights of others, or causes harm to society or other individuals.

School Context

Religious freedom is raised when there is a conflict between school expectation and the practices of a particular religion. Reciting a daily prayer or participating in a religious ceremony for an Easter or Christmas holiday may constitute a mandatory participation in a religious activity. Some schools have a component of religious education, or integrate religious teachings into discussions of morality and social behaviour. This may constitute religious education as an aspect of the curriculum. 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"i 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. 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.