FAQs on Alberta’s Bill 24 saga
The recent passing of Bill 24 could have a serious impact on the operation, governance, accreditation, and funding of Christian schools. Consequently, the state of Christian education continues to be of serious concern in our circles. Parents want to be engaged and informed about what goes on at their schools. However, it appears the Alberta government wants to limit parental involvement especially in the area of sexuality and gender issues. Understandably this has caused some stress, if not confusion, about what this legislation really means for the future sustainability of our schools. What follows is an FAQ highlighting questions and concerns that our supporters may have.
- What is Bill 24?
- What does Bill 24 actually require?
- Couldn’t a Christian school declare that they have a policy that conforms to the requirements of Bill 24, without having to follow it? Or, could a Christian school have a Bill 24 policy that they “interpret and apply” from a Christian perspective?
- What kind of “teeth” does Bill 24 have?
- Do you have more information on the legal implications of Bill 24?
- Why is this a problem?
- Why is there pressure on schools right now?
- Are schools really under that much pressure? Is the government not just “bluffing?”
- Who are the coalition of schools taking the province to court and what are they trying to accomplish?
- The coalition of schools tried to get an injunction. What does that mean, and where does it leave them?
- How long can we expect the case to take?
- What should schools be doing?
- What is ARPA Canada’s role now?
- What can I do?
Bill 24 is entitled An Act to Support Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs). It passed into law on November 15, 2017, amending sections 16.1 and 45.1 of the School Act. Its stated purpose is to provide a safe, caring, and inclusive environment for students who identify as LGBTQ+. In reality Bill 24 was a bill with an ideological bent, requiring all schools, including independent Christian schools, to adopt a view of sexuality and gender that is harmful and contrary to scripture.
Bill 24 requires a school principal to immediately allow a Gay-Straight Alliance club (GSA) upon a student’s request. This is to be done without parental notification. The principal may not even consult the board in such a situation. Once a GSA has been formed in a school, students are allowed to organize Pride events or special LGBTQ+ events (posters, advertising, guest speakers, pride parades, etc.). Events organized by a GSA must be allowed by a principal, again without parental notification or consultation with the school’s board of directors.
We don’t see how this is possible. First of all, if a Christian school declares they have a Bill 24 compliant policy, and post that policy to their public website (as required by the law), but have no intention of adhering to it, they not only break the 9th commandment, but sully the reputation of the Christian community as liars in the process. This is not what Jesus was suggesting when he instructed us to be wise as serpents.
Furthermore, when we play out the scenario, it ends in disaster:
- School implements a policy under s. 16.1 of the School Act (Bill 24), and proclaims to the Alberta government and Alberta public via their website that this policy is in force at their school
- A student at the school requests a GSA club or activity (e.g. flying rainbow flag for pride week, or having a drag queen come to the school to read I Am Jazz to the grade 1-4 kids)
- Principal must “immediately grant permission” for the requested club or event (s. 16.1(1)(a), which must be, verbatim, in the school policy as per s. 45.1(4)(b))
- Principal can either:
- comply (thus potentially compromising a Christian conviction on an ethical issue); or
- not comply (thus violating the policy)
- Assuming the principal does not comply, the student has the ability to go directly to the Minister of Education to ensure the initiative does happen.
- The Minister has the legal authority to “inquire into and report on any appeal, complaint or dispute” (s. 40(1))
- Depending on what that inquiry reveals, the Minister can “appoint a responsible adult to work with the requesting students in organizing the activity or to facilitate the establishment, and the ongoing operation, of the student organization at the school” (School Act, s. 16.1(4).)
- The “responsible adult” referred to in s. 16.1(4) is most likely a person who holds views contrary to the school on issues of sexual ethics and identity.
When we play out the scenario, it seems to us that it will be impossible to maintain the integrity and character of a Christian school, at least as it relates to issues of identity and sexual ethics.
Bill 24 pairs with Bill 10 (passed in 2015) and Bill 7 (passed in 2017). Bill 7 amended the Alberta Human Rights Act, adding gender identity and expression as prohibited grounds of discrimination. You can read more about that Bill here. Bill 10 had the same purpose as Bill 24 but was not as authoritarian. Under Bill 10 the minister of education could threaten schools with loss of accreditation and/or funding if schools decided not to comply. Therefore Bill 24 was passed to provide the minister of education with the power to remove accreditation and/or funding from schools, including private schools, should these schools not comply.
For specific details about Bill 24 including legal ramifications please check out these links:
Bill 24 is a problem for many reasons:
- It fails to recognize unconditional love that parents have for their children, whether they identify as LGBTQ+ or not (there are exceptions, but these are very few).
- It puts the issues of sexual identity, gender issues, and sexuality in general in the hands of the state instead of the home.
- It infringes on the rights of parents to educate their children according to their faith commitments.
- It violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms because it fails to balance parental rights with the governments objectives.
- It allows for an individual’s (even a very young child) demands to trump parental rights and responsibility.
- It insists on language that a school must adopt in their safe, caring, and inclusive school policies; this is concerning because policies define schools.
- It forces faith-based schools to adopt the ideas and worldview behind the government policies being proposed.
All schools in Alberta were required to have their Safe, Caring, and Inclusive Schools policies compliant with Bill 24 and completed by April 1, 2018. The policies were also required to be posted on each school’s website by June 30. All Alberta schools must comply with Section 45.1 of the School Act as per the annual declaration found in the Annual Operating Plan (AOP). This AOP is submitted annually by all Alberta schools. By complying with Section 45.1, by “checking the box,” schools state that they agree with and comply with all the requirements of Bill 24. This puts a lot of pressure on those schools who are compelled by their faith beliefs to not “check the box”. Furthermore, Minister of Education David Eggen has repeatedly stated that allschools must comply or they may face loss of accreditation and/or funding.
A number of schools, including those in the coalition (more on that below) decided not to check the box. Letters from the Ministry of Education asked these schools to clarify their position and to respond by July 31. These schools submitted responses that inform Alberta Education that the schools feel their policies do comply with the standards and requirements of Bill 24 insofar as those requirements align with the Alberta Human Rights Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
At the beginning of August, the Alberta government relented somewhat. They elected to abandon their attempt to compel schools to attest to comply with the School Act in order to actually scrutinize the Annual Declarations/AOP submissions. Most schools were advised that their Annual Declarations would be processed. Some noted that this was a small, but noteworthy victory.
From what I understand then, Alberta Education has extended compliance deadlines a number of times after which they warn schools about potential loss of funding and accreditation. Are schools really under that much pressure? In other words, is the government not just “bluffing?”
This is a great question. We obviously can’t provide a direct answer as to whether or not the Alberta government is bluffing. However, we can inform you that the government continues to use strong language consistently in their correspondence with schools regarding deadlines and compliant policies.
On August 27 the Deputy Minister of Education informed schools that a 30-day deadline to post a compliant policy is being imposed, running from the date each individual school receives an email from Alberta Education providing detailed feedback on its policy. The Deputy Minister attached two template policies to assist schools.
Many Christians have expressed concern that these templates still undermine religious freedom and the parents’ rights and responsibilities for their own children. The lawyers assert that government has failed to indicate any flexibility in enforcing the implementation of Bill 24’s policy requirements on faith-based schools. If a school fails to meet even a single requirement of Bill 24, the government will hold that school not to be in compliance, and subject to the threatened repercussions.
The government has informed schools, in writing, that failure to comply may result in consequences that can include a Ministerial Order establishing a policy and requiring the posting of the policy, an investigation or inquiry, and/or funding implications. An investigation or inquiry may result in the suspension or cancellation of accreditation, or any other order the Minister deems appropriate. Furthermore, Alberta Education has gone public to repeat these warnings and threats. In an interview on August 30th, David Eggen said if law-abiding policies aren’t posted by early October, he will impose policies on reticent schools. If the schools fail to post the imposed policy, he’ll withdraw their public funding before the end of the school year. You can read more about that here.
With repeated threats to accreditation and funding, schools will feel pressured to abandon their position defending the integrity of their faith-based programing and parent-child relationships. However, in a constitutional democracy such as Canada, it is critical that Canadians be willing to maintain principled stands against totalitarian governments and appeal to courts which are entrusted with the duty of upholding our free society.
I’ve heard about a coalition of schools taking the province to court. Who are they and what are they trying to accomplish?
There are a number of Reformed schools that have joined a coalition of other schools, individuals, educational organizations, and parent organizations. This coalition has joined a court challenge against the minister of education led by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF). The purpose of the court challenge is to take a stand for: religious freedom, conscience rights, freedom of association, and parental rights.
For more information on the original court challenge, check out this link.
The coalition sought an injunction of Bill 24 and its requirements. The purpose of the injunction was to get a stay (which by default would also include the requirements under Bill 10). A stay is a legal term meaning that all requirements would be “stopped” until the case would get a proper hearing and ultimately a decision regarding Bill 24’s constitutionality.
Unfortunately, the judge did not grant the coalition an injunction. This decision was disappointing but hardly unexpected. What follows are some highlights of the decision:
- According to the court there were no constitutional issues at stake. Furthermore, the court stated that religious rights are not being infringed.
- The court also concluded that there is no threat for parental rights; the balance of convenience is on the side of the government.
- There has never been a case in the country where broad rights of children clash with parental rights.
- The court rejected affidavit evidence regarding harm to children and promotion of gender ideology.
- The court claimed it needed to hear from the children directly. This is an unusual finding for a court as vulnerable children should normally have the right to have parents speak on their behalf.
- Expert medical evidence was also rejected by the court (Experts warned that children are vulnerable re: gender issues).
- The court also cited the Trinity case and rejected the notion of infringement of religious rights.
In light of all these developments, JCCF has filed an appeal. Front and center in the appeal will be the concern that the court is acting as an activist. JCCF has assured coalition schools that they plan to continue to stand up for parental rights, conscience rights, and religious freedom. At the time of writing, no specific date has been finalized yet but a hearing is expected in September, 2018.
In today’s “instant gratification” society we expect results and we expect them quickly. Court cases such as this can take a very long time. Both sides plan to be in this for the long haul. In other words, the court case will likely find its way all the way to the Supreme Court which could take three years or longer.
Schools should be going to the JCCF for any legal advice. Furthermore, schools should remain principled and stay the course without compromising core convictions regardless if other schools in the coalition do otherwise. We remind all schools that your policies define you. Therefore, ensure that your policies align completely with the mission, vision, and values of your school.
ARPA will be contacting schools to assist in any way possible, without interfering with the JCCF’s court case. Our team has worked hard to challenge both Bill 10 and Bill 24 when they were debated in the legislature. We have met with government officials recommending amendments to Bill 24.
ARPA has provided pro-bono consultation with schools who sought input while creating Safe, Caring, and Inclusive Schools policies. Furthermore, ARPA created a document in order to assist schools in formulating solid language in their policies, so as not to adopt the required language under Bill 24. This document is entitled Protect Them All.
God has blessed ARPA with the hiring of an Alberta Manager, namely, Ed Hoogerdyk. One of Ed’s goals will be to build and sustain long-term relationships with government officials. It is our hope and prayer that this relationship building will bear much fruit and result in amendments which better reflect Biblical principles.
ARPA will also attempt to receive intervenor standing in the case, when that is possible. Please pray for this effort as intervenor status requirements in Alberta appear to be much more restrictive compared to other provinces. An ARPA intervention would argue a Reformed perspective on education, the role of parents, the community aspect of our religion (the doctrine of the communion of saints, and how that’s counter to the individualism of our current culture), the doctrine of the Imago Dei and the Reformed view on the separation of church, state and family and how Bill 24 undermines all of this, indeed, threatens it in an existential way.
ARPA will continue to do our best to keep grassroots informed on developments. Stay tuned for monthly newsletters, our Quick Updates, and our regular Facebook posts. If you require a face-to-face visit or consultation from the Alberta Manager, don’t hesitate to contact Ed Hoogerdyk. His contact information can be found below.
Pray! Heed our call to prayer. Pray for our government officials. Pray that God will provide them with wisdom and discretion. Pray that God will continue to provide parents with the freedom to establish Christian schools that educate their children according to Biblical principles.
Encourage school leaders and school personnel. This is a very challenging time for them. Write letters to your school board thanking them for their courage and encouraging them to stay the course.
Stay principled. Take the time to read and meditate on Scriptures related to the responsibility appropriated to parents, the obedience required of our children, and the duties assigned to the state. Some suggestions include: Deuteronomy 6, Ephesians 6, Colossians 3, Psalm 78, Psalm 127, Romans 13.
It has been a privilege and a blessing to operate and govern our Christian schools here in Alberta. God has blessed these schools with capable leadership, quality teachers, and engaged parents. Our concerns and fears are understandable. But we have a place to lay these concerns and fears. And this place is the throne of God, the throne of our Heavenly Father. He will hear our prayers (Psalm 116:1). He will execute justice (Psalm 103:6, Psalm 146:7). He will bless us and protect us (Psalm 84:11). Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God (Psalm 20:7).