Patrick Craine

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Court ruling wrests education authority from parents, hands to state: lawyer in case

Patrick Craine
Patrick Craine

OTTAWA, Ontario, February 17, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - After Friday morning’s unanimous Supreme Court ruling denying a Quebec family’s request to exempt their child from the province’s controversial ethics and religious culture program, the mother says she feels that her parental rights have been thwarted.

“As a parent, I feel like I have a right to a say in the education of my children,” said the mother, who can only be identified as S.L. “I feel it was very serious and it has serious outcomes.”

Lawyers and commentators involved in the case are calling the ruling a devastating blow for parental rights and an unprecedented victory for the state’s authority over the education of children; however, they also emphasize that the court has not declared the ethics and religious culture program to be constitutional, and has left the door open to another court challenge.

Jean-Yves Côté, the family’s lawyer at the trial, said that with today’s ruling “the state is now in a position to impose in the public schools an ideology that doesn’t correspond to the parent’s faith.”

“According to the civil code, the parent delegates his authority to the teacher,” he explained. “Now there is a shift. The authority of the teacher comes not from the parents but from the state.”

The ERC course, which has been mandated for all students from grades 1 to 11 including homeschoolers, was introduced in 2008 with the aim of presenting the spectrum of world religions and lifestyle choices from a “neutral” stance.

The parents, along with moral conservatives and people of faith across the country, charged that it promotes relativism and its mandatory nature violated the parental right to direct the education of their children.

But the Supreme Court’s majority decision, written by Justice Deschamps on behalf of herself and six other justices, argued that the course does not infringe on a particular set of religious beliefs because it remains neutral to religion.

“State neutrality is assured when the state neither favours nor hinders any particular religious belief, that is, when it shows respect for all postures towards religion, including that of having no religious beliefs whatsoever,” wrote Deschamps.

But Patrick Andries of the Coalition pour la Liberté en Éducation, which supported the family throughout the case, says the course is not as neutral as the court supposes.  “It has inherently in it a relativist approach,” he said, adding that the presentation of the different faiths “tends to confuse the children.”

The crux of the court’s argument was that the parents failed to meet the burden of proof necessary to show that their child’s participation in the course would impede their ability to raise him in their Catholic faith.

Côté explained that the court has thus raised the bar for parents who object to school curriculum: while previously it was sufficient to show that a program went against the parents’ sincerely-held faith, now they must provide evidence that it has “interfered with their ability to pass their faith on to their children,” in the court’s words.

With this ruling, he said, “we need an objective criteria, or proof, or evidence that the freedom of religion of the plaintiff is infringed. That is totally new.”

The mother says the heightened criterion is too high a burden. “Who can weigh prejudice toward a child when it comes to faith? How can we provide objective proof and who can dismiss a parent’s voice as an expert?” she asked.

Justice LeBel, in his minority decision, said the court was not able to judge the program itself and how it would be implemented in the classroom because there was insufficient evidence of its content presented at the trial.

Côté noted that the case was difficult because they brought it forward before the course had even been implemented, and the trial judge, Judge Dubois, had only allowed them to present the one book used by the family’s six-year-old, prohibiting them from presenting the rest of the curriculum.

Don Hutchinson, vice president and general legal counsel for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, which intervened in the case, emphasized that the court based its decision on a lack of evidence that the child had actually suffered harm from the course – a requirement for the exemption – owing to the fact that they went to court before the child entered the course.

As a result, he called it a “non-decision on parental rights and religious freedom” in which the court “hung their legal hat on a technicality.”

At the same time, he criticized the ruling, saying that parents have always had the right to make decisions about their child’s religious and moral instruction “without government interference.”

Faye Sonier, legal counsel for the EFC, said, “the Court has left the door open to a similar case returning to the court if an objective infringement of rights can be demonstrated, rather than a parental concern about infringement.”

But Andries pointed out that the Quebec law allowing exemptions says they can be used to “prevent” harm, meaning, he says, that one should not “have to go through the problem before asking for exemptions.”

Jean-Morse Chevrier, president of the Catholic Parents Association of Quebec and a director with the Catholic Civil Rights League, said the need to prove harm means that “parents would have to document the situation,” so it would be “extremely difficult.”

“It’s as though you really have to prove it, and it’s not easy to do on the psychological level and the spiritual level, the damage that’s being done,” she said. “And once the damage is done it’s not that easy to undo.”

She said the court has left parents who object to the course with no options because it is being imposed on the private schools and even officially on homeschoolers. “It’s a blow. It becomes a civil rights issue,” she said.

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PBS defends decision to air pro-abortion documentary ‘After Tiller’

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By Dustin Siggins

Under pressure for showing the pro-abortion documentary "After Tiller" on Labor Day, PBS' "POV" affiliate has defended the decision in response to an inquiry from LifeSiteNews.

The producers of the film say their goal with the documentary, which tells the stories of four late-term abortion doctors after the killing of infamous late-term abortionist George Tiller, is to "change public perception of third-trimester abortion providers by building a movement dedicated to supporting their right to work with a special focus on maintaining their safety.” 

POV told LifeSiteNews, "We do believe that 'After Tiller' adds another dimension to an issue that is being debated widely." Asked if POV will show a pro-life documentary, the organization said that it "does not have any other films currently scheduled on this issue. POV received almost 1000 film submissions each year through our annual call for entries and we welcome the opportunity to consider films with a range of points of view."

When asked whether POV was concerned about alienating its viewership -- since PBS received millions in federal tax dollars in 2012 and half of Americans identify as pro-life -- POV said, "The filmmakers would like the film to add to the discussion around these issues. Abortion is already a legal procedure."

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"This is an issue that people feel passionately about and will have a passionate response to. We are hopeful that the majority of people can see it for what it is, another lens on a very difficult issue." 

In addition to the documentary, POV has written materials for community leaders and teachers to share. A cursory examination of the 29-page document, which is available publicly, appears to include links to outside sources that defend Roe v. Wade, an examination of the constitutional right to privacy, and "a good explanation of the link between abortion law and the right to privacy," among other information.

Likewise, seven clips recommended for student viewing -- grades 11 and beyond -- include scenes where couples choose abortion because the children are disabled. Another shows pro-life advocates outside a doctor's child's school, and a third is described as showing "why [one of the film's doctors] chose to offer abortion services and includes descriptions of what can happen when abortion is illegal or unavailable, including stories of women who injured themselves when they tried to terminate their own pregnancies and children who were abused because they were unwanted."

Another clip "includes footage of protesters, as well as news coverage of a hearing in the Nebraska State Legislature in which abortion opponents make reference to the idea that a fetus feels pain." The clip's description fails to note that it is a scientifically proven fact that unborn children can feel pain.

The documentary is set to air on PBS at 10 p.m. Eastern on Labor Day.

Kirsten Andersen contributed to this article.

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Pete Baklinski Pete Baklinski Follow Pete

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He defended ‘real’ marriage, and then was beheaded for it

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By Pete Baklinski

A Christian man was executed during the night by a high-profile ruler after making an uncompromising defense of real marriage.

The Christian, who was renowned for his holiness, had told the ruler in public that his relationship with his partner was “against the law” of God. The Christian’s words enraged the ruler’s partner who successfully plotted to have him permanently silenced.

John the Baptist was first imprisoned before he was beheaded. The Catholic Church honors him today, August 29, as a martyr and saint.

While John’s death happened a little less than 2,000 years ago, his heroic stance for real marriage is more pertinent today than ever before.

According to the Gospel of Mark, the ruler Herod had ‘married’ his brother’s wife Herodias. When John told Herod with complete frankness, “It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife,” Herodias became “furious” with him to the point of wanting him killed for his intolerance, bullying, and hate-speech.

Herodias found her opportunity to silence John by having her daughter please Herod during a dance at a party. Herod offered the girl anything she wanted. The daughter turned to her mother for advice, and Herodias said to ask for John’s head on a platter.

Those who fight for real marriage today can learn three important lessons from John’s example.

  1. Those proudly living in ungodly and unnatural relationships — often referred to in today’s sociopolitical sphere as ‘marriage’ — will despise those who tell them what they are doing is wrong. Real marriage defenders must expect opposition to their message from the highest levels.
  2. Despite facing opposition, John was not afraid to defend God’s plan for marriage in the public square, even holding a secular ruler accountable to this plan. John, following the third book of the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 20:21), held that a man marrying the wife of his brother was an act of “impurity” and therefore abhorrent to God. Real marriage defenders must boldly proclaim today that God is the author of marriage, an institution he created to be a life-long union between one man and one woman from which children arise and in which they are best nurtured. Marriage can be nothing more, nothing less.
  3. John did not compromise on the truth of marriage as revealed by God, even to the point of suffering imprisonment and death for his unpopular position. Real marriage defenders must never compromise on the truth of marriage, even if the government, corporate North America, and the entire secular education system says otherwise. They must learn to recognize the new “Herodias” of today who despises those raising a voice against her lifestyle. They must stand their ground no matter what may come, no matter what the cost.

John the Baptist was not intolerant or a bigot, he simply lived the word of God without compromise, speaking the word of truth when it was needed, knowing that God’s way is always the best way. Were John alive today, he would be at the forefront of the grassroots movement opposing the social and political agenda to remake marriage in the image of man.

Click "like" if you want to defend true marriage.

If he were alive today he might speak simple but eloquent words such as, “It is against God’s law for two men or two women to be together as a husband and wife in marriage. Marriage can only be between a man and a woman.” 

He would most likely be hated. He would be ridiculed. He would surely have the human rights tribunals throwing the book at him. But he would be speaking the truth and have God as his ally. 

The time may not be far off when those who defend real marriage, like John, will be presented with the choice of following Caesar or making the ultimate sacrifice. May God grant his faithful the grace to persevere in whatever might come. St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

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The Wunderlich family Mike Donnelly / Home School Legal Defence Association
Thaddeus Baklinski Thaddeus Baklinski Follow Thaddeus

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German homeschoolers regain custody of children, vow to stay and fight for freedom

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By Thaddeus Baklinski

One year to the day since a team of 20 social workers, police officers, and special agents stormed a homeschooling family’s residence near Darmstadt, Germany, and forcibly removed all four of the family’s children, aged 7 to 14, a state appeals court has returned custody of the children to their parents.

The reason given for the removal was that parents Dirk and Petra Wunderlich continued to homeschool their children in defiance of a German ban on home education.

The children were returned three weeks after being taken, following an international outcry spearheaded by the Home School Legal Defense Association.

However, a lower court imposed the condition on the parents that their children were required to attend state schools in order for them to be released, and took legal custody of the children in order to prevent the family from leaving the country.

In a decision that was still highly critical of the parents and of homeschooling, the appeals court decided that the action of the lower court in putting the children in the custody of the state was “disproportional” and ordered complete custody returned to the parents, according to a statement by the HSLDA.

The Wunderlichs, who began homeschooling again when the court signaled it would rule this way, said they were very pleased with the result, but noted that the court’s harsh words about homeschooling indicated that their battle was far from over.

“We have won custody and we are glad about that,” Dirk said.

“The court said that taking our children away was not proportionate—only because the authorities should apply very high fines and criminal prosecution instead. But this decision upholds the absurd idea that homeschooling is child endangerment and an abuse of parental authority.”

The Wunderlichs are now free to emigrate to another country where homeschooling is legal, if they choose, but they said they intend to remain in Germany and work for educational freedom.

“While we no longer fear that our children will be taken away as long as we are living in Hessen, it can still happen to other people in Germany,” Dirk said. “Now we fear crushing fines up to $75,000 and jail. This should not be tolerated in a civilized country.”

Petra Wunderlich said, "We could not do this without the help of HSLDA,” but cautioned that, “No family can fight the powerful German state—it is too much, too expensive."

"If it were not for HSLDA and their support, I am afraid our children would still be in state custody. We are so grateful and thank all homeschoolers who have helped us by helping HSLDA.”

HSLDA’s Director for Global Outreach, Michael Donnelly, said he welcomed the ruling but was concerned about the court’s troubling language.

“We welcome this ruling that overturns what was an outrageous abuse of judicial power,” he said.

“The lower court decision to take away legal custody of the children essentially imprisoned the Wunderlich family in Germany. But this decision does not go far enough. The court has only grudgingly given back custody and has further signaled to local authorities that they should still go after the Wunderlichs with criminal charges or fines.”

Donnelly pointed out that such behavior in a democratic country is problematic.

“Imprisonment and fines for homeschooling are outside the bounds of what free societies that respect fundamental human rights should tolerate,” he explained.

“Freedom and fundamental human rights norms demand respect for parental decision making in education. Germany’s state and national policies that permit banning home education must be changed.

"Such policies from a leading European democracy not only threaten the rights of tens of thousands of German families but establish a dangerous example that other countries may be tempted to follow,” Donnelly warned.

HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris said that acting on behalf of the Wunderlichs was an important stand for freedom.

“The Wunderlichs are a good and decent family whose basic human rights were violated and are still threatened,” Farris said.

“Their fight is our fight," Farris stressed, "and we will continue to support those who stand against German policy banning homeschooling that violates international legal norms. Free people cannot tolerate such oppression and we will do whatever we can to fight for families like the Wunderlichs both here in the United States and abroad. We must stand up to this kind of persecution where it occurs or we risk seeing own freedom weakened.”

Visit the HSLDA website dedicated to helping the Wunderlich family and other German homeschoolers here.

Contact the German embassy in the U.S. here.

Contact the German embassy in Canada here.

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