EDMONTON, Alberta, March 5, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Homeschoolers say they remain gravely concerned over the Alberta government’s new Education Act, even after Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk has distanced himself from his spokeswoman’s statements that homeschoolers would be forbidden to teach controversial aspects of their religious beliefs as part of their curriculum.

After learning that the province’s new Education Act may be opening the door to “diversity” education, and that it includes homeschools under the list of schools, LifeSiteNews had asked Donna McColl, Lukaszuk’s assistant director of communications, about the controversial issue of homosexuality as a test case. In response LSN was told that faith-based schools and homeschooling families would not be able to teach that homosexual behavior is a sin in their programs. But after getting flooded with complaints over the remarks, the government is now hastening to assure parents that they can indeed teach their beliefs.

“At the end of the day, parents have the right to determine the curriculum. And yes, they can still teach whatever their beliefs are about homosexuality, one way or the other,” Janice Schroeder, Lukaszuk’s director of communications, told LifeSiteNews Thursday.

But Paul Faris, president of the Home School Legal Defense Association, says the flap highlights the fact that the law needs to be amended to avoid interpretations like McColl’s by other government officials or future governments.

“While we applaud the government for repudiating the earlier remarks, we would prefer that they simply change Bill 2 to clearly steer well clear of interfering in homeschoolers’ private lives,” he said.

“From my perspective, the fact that they’ve repudiated the previous remarks is somewhat cold comfort because the government clearly doesn’t even know what their own position is on this,” he added.

Homeschoolers, including HSLDA and the Alberta Home Education Association (AHEA), are alarmed over section 16 of the bill, which requires schools, including homeschoolers, to “honour and respect” the controversial Alberta Human Rights Act that has been used to target Christians and conservatives.

Though the government is insisting the bill will change nothing for homeschooling in the province, the groups are warning that it could be used to mandate politically-correct “diversity” education in the home.

Tabled by Alison Redford’s Progressive Conservative government on Feb. 14th, the bill would replace the existing School Act. It is scheduled for second reading this week, possibly as early as Monday.

AHEA organized a peaceful rally at the legislature Monday to call on the government to amend the bill. They say Premier Redford is tracking how many people contact her or Minister Lukaszuk regarding the bill to gauge interest in changing the language.

At the same time, AHEA and HSLDA are backing a proposed amendment by the right-wing Wildrose Party to remove reference to the Alberta Human Rights Act in section 16. Another amendment they support would change the bill’s preamble to state that “parents have the paramount right and responsibility to make decisions respecting the education of their children.”

The groups are calling on Alberta citizens to keep the pressure on the government, which holds 67 of the 83 seats in the legislature, and urge them to pass the amendments.

Many were shocked last Thursday when McColl told LifeSiteNews that under the new Act, “You can affirm the family’s ideology in your family life, you just can’t do it as part of your educational study and instruction.”

At the time, Faris said the comments signaled that the government was “in fact planning to violate the private conversations families have in their own homes.”

Under fire, Minister Lukaszuk sent a letter Feb. 24th to LifeSiteNews alleging the piece was “alarmist” and based on “unfounded” interpretations of the proposed Education Act.

“Home schooling families in Alberta need not be concerned that the provincial government intends to compromise their religious freedoms, intervene in their parenting styles or private conversations, or undertake any of the nefarious activities you suggest,” the Minister wrote. “The Government of Alberta fully respects religious freedoms – all religious freedoms – and has a number of protections in place.”

When LifeSiteNews spoke to Schroeder – McColl’s boss – on Thursday, March 1st, she was clearly shocked at McColl’s comments when LifeSiteNews explained that they were made in response to repeated questions, raised as a test case, as to whether homeschoolers of traditional values could teach that homosexuality is a sin.

“Wow. Well, that’s unfortunate,” Schroeder said. Asked if she wanted a transcript, Schroeder said she would take LifeSiteNews at our word.

She called McColl’s statements an “unfortunate miscommunication” and insisted the government would be “abundantly clear” when explaining the Act in the future.

“The general intent of the legislation was we believe the home education system is working well as it is,” she said. “We do not see anything in the Education Act that changes things for homeschooling parents.”

After LifeSiteNews asked Schroeder for a correction of Lukaszuk’s criticisms of our reporting, Schroeder asked LifeSiteNews late Friday afternoon to hold our story as she awaited approval of the new version. She confirmed Monday that they would release an updated letter, but could not confirm it would be by the end of the day.

Both Lukaszuk and Schroeder pointed out that the Alberta Human Rights Act, in section 11.1, gives parents the option of removing children from classes dealing with religion, sexuality, or sexual orientation without academic penalty. Lukaszuk wrote that for homeschoolers that section confirms that parents choose how these matters are taught.

And Schroeder emphasized that the Alberta Human Rights Act also protects the family’s religious freedom, in addition to protecting from discrimination based on “sexual orientation.”

But in the past Christians, such as Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary and Red Deer pastor Stephen Boissoin, have been targeted under the Act for espousing Christian teaching on homosexuality. In the case of Boissoin he was found guilty by a human rights tribunal after a local newspaper printed a letter to the editor in which he expressed concerns with the homosexual agenda being taught in schools.

Asked whether parents would be permitted to teach something deemed to violate the Alberta Human Rights Act, Schroeder said she would not “speculate.”

“You’d have to ask the human rights tribunal on how they would rule on something like that,” she said. “Our sense of it would be – well I’m not going to speculate on what our sense of that would be. Right now parents determine religious teachings for their children.”

In a letter responding to Lukaszuk’s letter to LifeSiteNews, Patty Marler, AHEA’s government liaison, took issue with the notion that the Alberta Human Rights Act would protect their religious beliefs.

“The Human Rights Tribunals have used the Alberta Human Rights Act to restrict and diminish religious beliefs and expressions, so how would those with deeply held religious convictions be ‘protected’ in any way?” she asked.

Commenting on McColl’s statements, she wrote, ”If this is the understanding of the spokesperson for the Department of Education, it is likely that this could be the interpretation taken in a court of law.”

“Quite frankly, I don’t care what the government’s intentions are,” said Faris. “I want to know what the law says. Because ultimately it’s what’s written in the law that’s going to matter.”

“Even if this government does have good intentions, if a different government gets in with nefarious intentions, they’ve got that law sitting there waiting for them to use,” he added.


Contact Information:

Hon. Thomas Lukaszuk, Education Minister
423 Legislature Building
10800 - 97 Avenue NW
Edmonton, AB
Canada T5K 2B6
Phone: (780) 427-5010
Fax: (780) 427-5018
edmonton.castledowns@assembly.ab.ca

Premier Alison Redford
Office of the Premier
Room 307, Legislature Building
10800-97 Avenue
Edmonton, Alberta T5K 2B7
Phone: 780-427-2251
E-mail: Use this form.

Contact info for Alberta MLAs.