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Alberta unanimously passes bill forcing faith-based schools to allow gay clubs

Steve Weatherbe

EDMONTON, March 12, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) –The Alberta legislature has unanimously passed a controversial law forcing Christian, Muslim, and Jewish schools to set up clubs for homosexuals, known as “gay-straight alliances,” and removing a provision allowing parents to remove their children from classroom discussions of homosexuality.

GSAs have had an influence in Alberta far beyond the tiny four percent of the population social scientists say identify as homosexual. When the Liberal opposition reintroduced a private bill in the fall sitting of the legislature that would have forced GSAs on all schools, the move split the official opposition Wildrose Party and its leader Danielle Smith joined Progressive Conservative government caucus along with seven MLAs.

The government then quashed the Liberal bill and introduced its own version, Bill 10, that initially would have allowed religious schools to avoid sanctioning homosexuality. This caused so much opposition from the homosexual lobby that Premier Jim Prentice put it on hold.

On the opening day of the spring session, the government called a snap vote on a revamped version that left Christian schools no wiggle room. Wildrose, an uneasy alliance of the province’s conservative Christians and libertarians, was so demoralized by last fall’s defection remaining MLAs meekly supported it.

It requires all schools to provide meeting space and staff support for any club that seeks to provide a welcoming space for students upon the request of students, and specifically names Gay Straight Alliances and Queer Straight Alliances. Much of the previous debate focused on whether the province’s diverse range of religious schools supported by public funds would be forced to support clubs that stand against their moral teachings. The answer according to some but not all supporters of such schools is: yes they will.

The Catholic School Trustees Association, however, approved Bill 10. “We believe that Catholic Schools will be able to work with the legislation passed in the legislature on March 10, 2015,” they say. “Every child is a child of God who is valued and respected and every child will continue to have a place where they feel welcome as an important member of our community.”

“We anticipated the amendments in Bill 10,” stated the organization, “and accordingly, our Catholic superintendents proactively began to develop … a guideline for student advocacy, peer support, or counselling groups. As a result, every student will have a safe place where they feel supported. … We believe that Catholic Schools will be able to work with the legislation.”

According to the trustees, the amended Bill 10 allows local boards “the flexibility needed to respond to students needs at a local level.” Instead of being focused on GSAs, the bill mandates the creation of clubs that are welcoming to all students, naming gay straight alliances only as examples.  

Others are skeptical. Though the stated purpose of GSAs is to prevent bullying of “sexual minorities,” John Carpay of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms told LifeSiteNews, their effect will be to undermine the province’s Catholic school system (which is fully tax-funded) as well as its wide assortment of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim schools, most of which receive substantial public funding too.

“They empower students to undermine the authority of parents. It’s a gigantic leap backwards for parental choice,” Carpay said. “This runs counter to the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, which says parents have primacy in the education of their children.”

Jojo Ruba of the Faith Beyond Belief ministry agrees. “Catholic and Christian schools teach that God made us male and female, that our gender comes from God, but GSAs teach that our gender is a social construct. It’s a challenge to the faith system behind many Alberta schools.”

Ruba warned that GSAs “will be able to bring in to a Catholic school, for example, speakers who say the Catholic teaching on homosexuality is wrong.”

“But the legislation doesn’t limit the kind of clubs that can be created if a student wants it,” he said. “It means there can be atheist clubs in Muslim schools, Muslim clubs in Jewish schools and pro-choice clubs in Catholic schools.”

Ruba noted that the Alberta Teachers Association has issued a tip sheet for students in religious schools on how they should use their GSAs “to counter the hetero-normativeness” of the school’s prevailing theology. “This puts the students in charge and gives the parents no say.”

Finally, says Ruba, “bullying is a red herring. The government has never given us any proof that GSAs are needed, that there is a bullying problem in Christian or Catholic schools, or that this is the best way to deal with it.”

Donna Trimble of Parents for Choice in Education agrees. “My daughter has attended a Catholic school for three years which has several transgendered students [and no GSA] and everyone is accepted and treated wonderfully.”

Trimble says the act states that if the child asks for a club, and the principal can find no one on staff to head it, the minister of education will appoint someone from outside the school. “Who is missing from this?” asks Trimble. “The parent, that’s who.”

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PCE is not against GSAs, says Trimble. “We are for the primacy of parents in choosing the methodology and philosophy and environment for their children.” Requiring GSAs in all provincial schools destroys the competitive advantage that makes Alberta schools so good, she argues. “When you homogenize the different schools, you take away parental choice. When there is diversity, schools have to compete for students, which improves the quality of education.”

But these are voices crying in the wilderness. The Alberta Teachers Association’s president, Mark Ramsankar, spoke for the majority of Albertans when he hailed the passage of the bill by the provincial legislature earlier this week as a step “that will have a definite positive impact on students in schools.”

The media has been blatant in its support and Premier Jim Prentice credited it with changing his mind on whether the GSAs should be compulsory. The switch came, he said this week, when he read stories in the news media “about how students and young people were responding to the difficult debate that was surrounding gay-straight alliances and Bill 10.” 

The failure of the Wildrose Party’s MLAs to oppose the bill disappointed social conservatives. “I assume it is about lack of courage. I can’t believe that all the MLAs thought this was a good bill,” said Trimble.

Shafer Parker, the pastor of Calgary’s Hawkwood Baptist Church, was particularly critical of the education minister, Gordon Dirks, himself a onetime Christian pastor. “He faced the same challenge that Daniel faced: go along with the emperor or risk being thrown into the lion’s den. Dirks chose to go along.”

John Carpay said there might be an alternative response: a constitutional challenge based on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

As for political action, Premier Prentice is expected to call a quick election in a few weeks to take advantage of the disarray in the ranks of the Wildrose Party, which was the only existing effective opposition until decimated by the Smith defection.

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