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I am a new parent. My interests are secularism, learning, parenting, religion, career planning, and adult education.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Who Really Has the Moral High Ground Here?

I've been following the request for public education free of religious instruction - as guaranteed by law - in Morinville. It's been a great story and I really admire the parents for what they have done to date and the progress that has been made. These parents have stood up to authority, with the law on their side, and solutions are on the way to Morinville- hopefully since it has been done in such a clumsy manner by our government.

Following the Morinville story lead me to following the stories around the new Education Act in Alberta as well. And in truth, it seemed like a good piece of legislation to me. It was so close to being passed, but then the call for an election halted its progress - due in large part to an effort by parents, who were concerned that teaching their kids about human rights, took away their rights to teach them whatever they wanted either in home schools or religious schools. See here, here, and here for more information.

However, I`m concerned that what is really happening is that forces, similar to those behind the religious right in the US, is trying to erode our public education system and our success as a country in protecting diversity and human rights. I`m sorry but if these kinds of movements and special interest groups means we`ll end up with Rick Santorums in Canada - then I`m not interested.

The Alberta Human Rights Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms are great legislation, not perfect, but pretty awesome. They do protect those rights that need it the most - yes, the rights of homosexuals, racial and ethnic minorities, and religious and nonreligious folks.

Parents don`t need to worry that they cannot teach their children their own religious views - those rights and freedoms are firmly protected.

From the Charter:
Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
(a) freedom of conscience and religion;
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
(d) freedom of association.
And so while if you believe that being homosexual is a sin - you have every right to believe that and express that - but you do not have the right to discriminate against homosexuals - because they are humans who have rights too - the right to believe they are NOT sinners and the right to express that - and the right to not be discriminated against on the basis of who they love.

So, does the religious right have the moral high ground here? Hello, they are protesting teaching human rights and canadian law to their children - somethings that the Minister of Education said the act won't even force them to do! Their religion has them questioning whether or not to uphold laws and legislation that protect everyone - and Canada's unique multi-cultural, plural society.

I find these enshrined rights to be full of values that I can support.

From the Charter
Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
From the Alberta Human Rights Act:

WHEREAS recognition of the inherent dignity and the equal and
inalienable rights of all persons is the foundation of freedom,
justice and peace in the world;
WHEREAS it is recognized in Alberta as a fundamental principle
and as a matter of public policy that all persons are equal in:
dignity, rights and responsibilities without regard to race, religious
beliefs, colour, gender, physical disability, mental disability, age,
ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income, family
status or sexual orientation;
WHEREAS multiculturalism describes the diverse racial and
cultural composition of Alberta society and its importance is
recognized in Alberta as a fundamental principle and a matter of
public policy;
WHEREAS it is recognized in Alberta as a fundamental principle
and as a matter of public policy that all Albertans should share in
composition of society and that the richness of life in Alberta is
enhanced by sharing that diversity; and
WHEREAS it is fitting that these principles be affirmed by the
Legislature of Alberta in an enactment whereby those equality
rights and that diversity may be protected:
The Act goes on to clarify that freedom of belief and expression are protected. There is nothing wrong with teaching children about the laws, acts, and charter. It's typical social studies. The religious right is just wrong on this issue and I have to wonder - to what end?


  1. Hi, Dea.

    I came across your blog while searching for news on the Education Act. I'd like to clarify some points, if I could.

    First and most importantly, I know of NO Albertan - whether they're homeschooling, public schooling, private schooling or Catholic schooling - who is protesting "teaching human rights and Canadian law to their children." Given some of the media coverage on this issue, I can certainly understand how one might come to that conclusion, but it is a mistaken one.

    This is NOT a "parental rights vs. human rights" issue. This is a parental rights vs. government intrusion issue. Parents - and even Albertans who are not parents - are concerned:

    1.) with the diminished authority Bill 2 gives to parents over decisions about the type of education that is given to their children, and...

    2.) with a part of Section 16: Diversity and Respect, that states "All programs of study...and instructional materials in all schools...must honour and respect...the Alberta Human Rights Act." One possible interpretation of this section - and this is an interpretation that has been confirmed by both an assistant director of communications for the Education Minister as well as by his Director of Communications - is that approval of all programs and instructional materials will be subject to unelected (not to mention controversial) Alberta human rights tribunals, whose rulings over the past few years have actually diminished freedoms of expression, conscience and religion, rather than upholding them.

    Since that is a possible interpretation, I cannot fathom why the government is so resistant to amending that section so as to clarify what is - and is not - intended by it.

    Those are the issues. I know no one who is currently teaching, or is planning to teach, their children or students to be intolerant or disrespectful of others, and it's discouraging, not to mention a bit insulting, when that is how this issue is repeatedly framed.

    Oh! You may want to check out the most recent update at the AHEA website:

    He makes the point that the government could have passed this Bill, as is, had it really wanted to do so. It chose to let it die on the Order Paper.

    Thanks for letting me offer some clarifications. :)

  2. Anonymous,

    I'm aware of how the AHEA would like to frame this issue, but I don't think anything in the wording of the bill meant that tribunals would be approving ciriculum. I haven't seen much evidence that the possibility of that intrepretation could be used - but whatever. I think that the tribunals have made fair decisions - making sure that people in public positions aren't using those positions of perceived authority to push their religious views on others.

  3. Isn't the view of AHEA on this issue - one that mirrors the views of Citizens for Diversity in Education (, and the Alberta Catholic School Trustees' Association, by the way - important? I always prefer to "go to the source" on any issue, no matter what that source is, as opposed to listening to what a third party "says" that source really means or believes.

    Regarding the human rights tribunals, unfortunately their decisions have not always been fair, as evidenced by the number of their decisions that have been repealed by actual courts of law (and even the censure given to them by those courts). Another article with regard to the way they operate may be found here if you're interested:

    I find it interesting that Minister's Lukaszuk's Director of Communications would not speculate on what would happen if a homeschooling parent taught something that violated the AHRA but instead stated that it would be up to the human rights tribunals to decide. So evidently at least one person in the Minister's office holds that interpretation, in addition to the Albertans (including but in no way limited to AHEA) who are concerned about this whole thing.

    The concerns over Bill 2 that were/are shared by so many Albertans are not shallow ones, nor are they without merit. The deletion of six words from the proposed Education Act would have calmed those concerns. The government refused, and then killed the bill (until after the election).

    At any rate, thank you for considering another viewpoint on this.

  4. I'm not saying their view isn't important, they have a right to express it and I have a right to disagree with it. I don't actually think that parental and religious rights should override other human rights. I've read the open letter from Citizens for Diversity in Education and I don't agree with their suggested alternative to section 16 - as it does not cover rights with regards to people with disabilities or address the rights of gltb populations. I think the fear of the tribunals is fearmongering.

  5. I really don't think we disagree all that much. I don't think one right should override other rights, either. But I strongly believe there needs to be a balance, and I strongly believe that parents must be free to pass on their beliefs to their children without government intrusion. The moment the government starts putting one right above another right, our society is in trouble.

    Sadly, that is exactly what is happening with human rights tribunals. Bishop Fred Henry wrote a pastoral letter to Catholics regarding the Catholic church's teaching on marriage, and was brought up on human rights charges for doing so. What exactly was he *supposed* to teach on that subject? If he is supposed to teach something that goes against the teachings if the Catholic church, where is freedom of religion? If he is supposed to not say *anything* at all if he cannot in good conscience teach against his beliefs, where is freedom of expression in that? He subsequently spent *two years* of his life fighting these charges before an actual court threw out the ruling of the human rights tribunal. And Bishop Henry supposedly had the protectoin of Section 3 of the AHRA.

    I wish it were just fearmongering, but unfortunately, in case after case, it appears that the human rights tribunals are out of control...and poorly set up, to boot.

  6. I see the Fred Henry issue a little differently - he was calling for government coersion against homosexuality in his letter and there are marginalized groups within the catholic church who were hurt by his message and they had every right to make a complaint. The complaints did not come from third parties but from within his own church.

    Also, I found it interesting that the bishop said "It is sometimes argued that what we do in the privacy of our home is nobody’ s business. While the privacy of the home is undoubtedly sacred, it is not absolute. Furthermore, an evil act remains an evil act whether it is performed in public or in private."

    So whatever parents teach their children in private in their homes - whether considered evil or not - is okay and government shouldn't be involved. But it's okay to pass judgement on what consenting adults do in their bedrooms? Seems to me that religious folks want it both ways. If you want government out of your private home lives - fine - but perhaps religious folks should extend the same courtesy to same-sex couples and their families.

    There are no easy solutions - these are definitely complex issues, but I still think that some religious folks go too far in protecting their right to hate others and teach their children to do the same. Real harm comes from that. Friends that I know and love have been adversely affected by political action encouraged by large religious institutions who want our government to endorse and enforce their religious views on these issues - and they are organized in such a way as to exert quite a loud voice.

    I'm just a small, unorganized voice in the wind, but I won't be quiet. I think that respect for the laws and acts that support our plural society should be taught to school children, and that is just the way I see things. Because the thing is, while people can believe whatever they want to - it doesn't mean that those beliefs are so scared (or right) that they can't or shouldn't be challenged.

  7. I appreciate your thoughts, although I think we have a different interpretation of some things. I have never taught my children to "hate others", and I don't believe that anyone has a legal right "to hate." I mean, how would one even legislate such a right? Perhaps the question is, "Do people have a right to determine what is moral and immoral for themselves and for their children, or is that now an area the government is going to inform us about?"

    I know people who lie, who steal, who cheat. I do not hate them, but I believe - on account of my religious beliefs - that they are wrong when they do those things. When I lie, or gossip, or lose my temper, I do not hate myself, but I sure hate those actions that I've committed. I have friends and family members who are gay. I love them; I certainly do NOT hate them. But I still believe that the homosexual acts that they commit are wrong, just as I believe that premarital and extramarital sex is wrong. Do you really mean to suggest that saying that something someone does is wrong equates to hating them?

    I'm just a small unorganized voice as well, and I won't be quiet either, as much as I would prefer to say nothing. I think respect for the law is important, but there have been such things as bad laws; are we supposed to say nothing about them, do nothing to get them changed, out of "respect"? I believe, as do many others, that Section 3 of the AHRA, as well as the way the human rights tribunals are set up, are examples of "bad law". In a democracy, it is our right and privilege to speak out against what we perceive to be bad law. Where would our country be today if people hadn't exercised that right in the past?

    And you are very right - no belief is so sacred that it can't or shouldn't be challenged, whether that belief is a religious one or not. But having a belief challenged on a personal level is a very different thing than the government taking a position *against* a specific belief. People fled other countries in order to come to Canada where they could believe and worship and speak without interference or negative repercussions from the government.

    I'd sure hate to see Canada lose that.

    But perhaps you disagree.

  8. I never accused you for teaching your kids to hate, and I think many people believe that their fight against accepting homosexuals into our society and allowing them to create legal families is a loving action - doesn't make it a love action though. And no, I don't think your personal views or the way you express constitute hate. However, I would ask you this - if homosexual acts are on par with premarital sex - why is it that only homosexuals receive so much political attention? so much discrimination? so much hate (in the form of exclusion, name calling, bullying, physical violence) You know what, I have no problem with your right to your beliefs. But when your beliefs become laws that exclude others - that is based your churches interpretation of a 2000 year old book - that teaches questionable morals (ie. forcing a woman to marry her rapist or be stoned), then I have a problem. The mental health community has decided that homosexuality is normal for a subsection of the population, it exists in nature, allowing them to marry provides them with an opportunity to create wholesome families (rather than force them into what you view to be sinful relationships of no redeeming value). I once met a progressive minister who was working within his church to create support for same sex marriage. When I challenged him that the bible contradicted him (I was religious at the time), he said, isn't it better to encourage healthy monogamy, loyalty and fidelity, and provide homosexuals with the opportunity to participate in both family and church life - then to condemn them to finding community in a bar. This was a picture of a man who accepted reality - that sexual orientation is not, in 99% of cases, something that anyone chooses, and who worked to make his religion fit with reality instead of misguided morals from an old book. I can respect that. You can believe and say that homosexuality is wrong all you want - but it doesn't make it true. The government should deal in reality - in reality homosexuals need the protection that human rights legislation has brought them and will continue to bring them. That same legislation protects your right as well. I've seen hateful, hateful things published in the name of religion - some are absolutely violent in their condemnation of what they believe is sin and in fact, there have been calls for violence. Probably not from the folks you associate with, but it happens, and it comes from those who claim to have the truth from God. I think that section 3 is a very important part of the human rights act - but I will grant that tribunals get it wrong sometimes - but it is better to face a tribunal whose job it is to mediate, educate, and reconcile then to take criminal action in all cases. I support freedom of religion, freedom of belief, even freedom of speech, insofar as it is not hate speech. nothing you have said qualifies as such, but I would like folks protected from it where it may cause harm and violence.


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