Are Anti-Discrimination Policies Bullying Christian Schools and Families?
From EFC’s Activate CFPL, June 20, 2011: Across the country, school boards are jumping on the bandwagon to implement equity and sexual orientation policies. Many of the objectives of these policies are laudable. Children should not be bullied, ridiculed, attacked or intimidated under any circumstance, or for any reason, and school boards are right to address it when it occurs. But what happens when the policies themselves become the bullies?
In many cases, the wording in the policies being rolled out proves problematic for Christian schools, programs and families. To provide “healthy” classrooms school boards need to recognize that they cannot ignore certain classes of human rights, such as the rights to freedom of religion, conscience and parental authority, in order to protect another, the right to be free from discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Supreme Court of Canada has repeatedly expressed that we live in a plural society, and that requires respect for the worldview of a variety of communities, religious or otherwise.
The Edmonton Public School Board (EPSB), for example, is currently developing a policy entitled Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. The policy states an intention to create a safe and inclusive environment for all members of the school community, including those who are “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, two-spirit, queer or questioning their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.” The policy, as most in this field, also has the stated goal of creating an environment free from harassment, prejudice, discrimination and bullying. These are worthy, important goals.
But statements and goals are not content, and the policy becomes problematic when the content requires Christian programs and schools not just to affirm their students but to ‘affirm’ various orientations and lifestyles that are contrary to Biblical beliefs.
Christian parents and organizations in Edmonton have been responding with concern. Naturally, they want their institutional and individual religious freedoms, as well as parental authority acknowledged and recognized and respected. They are also stating clearly that they share the belief that every child should be accepted, cared for and able to study in an environment free from harassment and bullying. For example, Logos Christian Programs stated the following,
Certainly, as followers of Jesus, we believe that every child should be free from bullying, whether it is because of his or her physical appearance or their sexual orientation, or for any other reason, and that all persons and families should be treated with respect and dignity.
However, their conscientious and religious beliefs require them to teach sex education from a biblical perspective, i.e. they want to teach their children to love and accept their neighbour, while also teaching sex education from a perspective that’s consistent with their religious beliefs. And Canadian law supports them in this regard.
Parents have the right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children (see The Universal Declaration of Human Rights) and they can ensure that the religious and moral education of their children is consistent with their own beliefs (see the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights). In Canada, parents are granted the “fundamental freedoms” of conscience and religion (see The Charter of Rights and Freedoms), and they are free to declare, manifest and practice their beliefs (see R. v. Big M. Drug Mart). Religious freedom is also extended to groups, ministries and organizations (see Alberta v. Hutterian Brethren of Wilson Colony), e.g. schools and school communities. Remember, all levels of government – including school boards – are subject to the requirements of the Charter.
Further, school boards have an obligation to provide a welcoming environment for all students, including those who hold religious beliefs (Ross v. New Brunswick School District No. 15).
Alberta is a province that has recently protected parental authority in its Human Rights Act by requiring that parents be advised when children are being taught about religion, sexuality or sexual orientation so they determine whether or not their children should be excused from that class.
Given the clarity of the law (noted above) and the strong precedent already set by the provincial government, should the Edmonton School Board impose such a policy on all schools and programs without a possibility of exemption? One would hope not.
Balance is required. Christian programs and families can and do teach the importance of respect, acceptance and care for others, and – so long as they maintain a commitment to just and fair treatment of all students – should be able to do so without being required to compromise their beliefs by affirming sexual orientations or lifestyles that violate their consciences.