HAMILTON, Ontario, November 24, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — An Ontario judge has ruled against a Hamilton father of two in a decision critics say strikes a major blow to parental rights.
Steve Tourloukis took the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) to court after it refused to give him advance notice when his children would be exposed in the classroom to sensitive subjects, such as homosexuality and abortion.
He wanted advance notice so he could decide whether or not to pull his kids from lessons he found objectionable according to his Greek Orthodox faith.
Tourloukis asked the Court to rule that board’s decision violated his Charter rights of freedom of religion, and to declare he had final authority over the education of his children.
In a 24-page judgement released Wednesday, Justice Robert Reid of the Ontario Superior Court found that the HWDSB had indeed impinged on Tourloukis’ Charter-protected right of religious freedom.
But Reid concluded the board’s refusal to grant Tourloukis religious accommodation, including giving him advance notice, was “reasonable,” given the board’s statutory obligations — particularly those outlined in the Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy launched by then-Education minister Kathleen Wynne in 2009.
Reid also ruled that the board’s decision struck a proportional balance with competing Charter rights of “equality and multiculturalism.”
Being permitted to pull his children from classes he objected to would allow Tourloukis “to isolate his children from aspects of the curriculum that in his religious belief would amount to ‘false teaching’,” wrote Reid.
“However, isolation is antithetical to the competing legislative mandate and the Charter values favouring inclusivity, equality and multiculturalism.”
The justice also tossed out Tourloukis’ request that the Court declare that, as a parent, he has the final authority over the education of his children.
Reid wrote that “parental rights” are “a matter of some nuance,” and added that a “black-and-white declaration of parental authority” would “oversimplify the common law principles” that were not in dispute.
He also opined that Tourloukis has the option of taking his kids out of public school if he is worried about “false teaching.”
Blow to parental rights
Pro-family advocates denounced the ruling as a blow to parental rights.
“I’m so saddened by the court decision. It’s a terrible verdict for parental rights in this province. My heart and prayers go out to Dr. Steve Tourloukis and his family,” noted Lou Iacobelli, chair of the Parental Rights in Education Defense Fund, which has bankrolled the four-year-long court challenge.
“This decision goes against the parental right to withdraw children from the radical sex curriculum, and it amounts to the undoing of parental rights in Ontario,” Iacobelli told LifeSiteNews in an email. “The judge is essentially telling parents that they have rights but those rights come to an end when children attend the public school system.”
Jack Fonseca of Campaign Life echoed this, describing the ruling as “terrible.”
“It essentially says that parental rights are subordinate to the State’s rights,” he told LifeSiteNews.
“While acknowledging the impingement on the father’s right to religious freedom is not a trivial matter, Justice Reid nonetheless renders it trivial, subjecting Tourloukis’s Charter right to the superiority of the school board’s alleged duty to embed homosexuality, gender identity, anti-heterosexism, anti-homophobia into all subject matters,” added Fonseca.
“The courts have ruled against parents, who are the first educators and always will be,” noted Tanya-Granic Allen, president of Parents As First Educators (PAFE).
“For the government to get involved in a school board matter is ludicrous,” she told LifeSiteNews in an email. “Will the Kathleen Wynne government's totalitarian attitude towards parents ever stop? Based on recent events and actions, I think not — not unless parents rise up against the politicians who think they run the families of Ontario.”
Equity Policy “at odds with” Christian beliefs: judge
Tourloukis, a Hamilton dentist, launched his challenge in 2012, but it dates back to his 2010 request for religious accommodation, when his daughter was in junior kindergarten and his son in Grade 2, and which the HWDSB denied on the basis of its Equity Policy.
The Liberal government and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) both intervened in the case, which was heard June 23.
Lawyer Albertos Polizogopoulos asked the Court to rule that not only had the HWDSB violated the Charter, but its refusal to grant the religious accommodation request was discrimination under Ontario’s Human Rights Code.
Tourloukis did not object to his children receiving factual information, or to students talking about these matters, Polizogopoulos argued, but he wanted to know when and how these would be conveyed in the classroom, because teachers are authority figures “and hold a very special place in the eyes of children.”
In his ruling, Reid accepted that Tourloukis’s religious beliefs were sincerely held.
Those beliefs include “that marriage is a sacrament and that sexual relations are sacred and should only be between a man and a woman within the sacred institution of marriage,” noted the justice.
“Likewise, he believes that same-sex sexual relations are not God’s intention and that there are only two genders, namely male and female.”
Tourloukis also believes it would be a sin if he did not protect his children from “false teachings,” which include “moral relativism and issues around human sexuality,” wrote Reid.
And Tourloukis “demonstrated his religious tenets are significantly at odds with numerous aspects of the Board’s Equity Policy including, but not solely, as regards sexual orientation.”
In its Equity Policy, wrote Reid, the HWDSB “committed to ensure that classroom practices are anti-homophobic and anti-heterosexist.”
“To allow his children to be exposed to the ‘open’ approach to human sexuality contained in the Equity Policy would be to allow them exposure to what he characterizes as ‘false teachings’ which is contrary to his faith,” Reid wrote. “Exposure is a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’ and it is the fact of the exposure, not the result that the applicant feels under a religious obligation to prevent.”
Board’s infringement of Charter rights “reasonable”
Reid agreed that board’s “interference” with Tourloukis’s Charter rights of religious freedom “is not trivial or insubstantial.”
Indeed, the HWDSB’s Equity Policy “created a direct impingement on the applicant’s right to religious freedom as he defines it.”
Nevertheless, the board’s decision that it cannot “accommodate religious values and beliefs that clearly conflict with mandated Ministry of Education and board policies” was reasonable, concluded Reid.
He ruled, moreover, that the board’s decision strikes a proportional balance between Tourloukis’ religious rights and its Equity Policy objectives, which fall under the “Charter protected values of equality and multiculturalism.”
Reid noted that the HWDSB based its Equity Policy on the Ministry of Education’s Policy Program Memorandum 119 of 2009, and that Bill 13, which mandated equity and inclusivity policies in all publicly funded schools, was not in force when Tourloukis launched his case.
But Bill 13, which passed in June 2012, “is an after-the-fact confirmation of the previous mandate of the Education Act, as was understood by the respondent and is consonant with the provisions of PPM 119 and the Board’s Equity Policy.”
LGBTQ issues “embedded across curriculum”: EFTO
Reid noted that the teachers’ union argued that “the curriculum has so fully integrated the requirements for gender equity, antiracist, respect for people with disabilities and respect for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities that it would be impractical if not impossible to advise the applicant in advance when any of the positions he considers objectionable were to be taught.”
The ETFO also argued that it would be an “undue burden on teachers” to “keep track of the varied of possibly objectionable subjects listed by parents of students and to provide individual accommodations accordingly,” wrote the justice.
“That’s a load of bull,” Fonseca told LifeSiteNews. “It’s not at all difficult for teachers to give parents advance notice of sexuality lessons. We’re not talking about keeping 500 things straight in your head.”
The Wynne government and the ETFO also supported the board’s position that having Tourloukis’ children leave class would “be contrary to the values of inclusion and well-being, and could lead to feelings of exclusion or marginalization by students,” Reid wrote.
“The judge bought into the argument presented by the lawyers of the Board, the Wynne government, and the ETFO, that if the parent was permitted to withdraw his children from class, it would somehow infringe upon the Charter rights of the theoretical gay children and children from homosexual households, who may or may not be in the classroom,” noted CLC’s Fonseca.
Tourloukis can pull his kids from public school, judge says
Reid suggested Tourloukis could take his children out of public schools.
“It may well be that the legislated mandate of the Education Act, and through it the Board’s Equity Policy, which the applicant finds objectionable, operate to preclude his children’s participation in the public education system,” he wrote.
“That system, by definition, must provide education at the broadest possible cross-section of the population,” noted Reid.
“To the extent that the concern about ‘false teaching’ outweighs other advantages of the public school system, the applicant may need to seek such other alternatives.”
But “all parents are taxpayers and this is why the ruling is discriminatory,” Iacobelli pointed out.
“If parents with Christian beliefs have lost their right to have these values respected in public schools, then they should be demanding a tax refund for the portion of their taxes that goes to pay for public education,” he told LifeSiteNews. “Parents can then spend the money for the schooling of their choice.”
Costs for case could be ruinous
Reid also left it up to the parties to determine how costs would be settled, notes Fonseca. That means the two lawyers for the Wynne government, two from the board and two from the ETFO could submit costs to Polizogopoulos, he noted.
“Not content with just stripping the father of his parental rights, this tyrant judge consciously left the door open for the six government-funded lawyers to ruin him financially,” Fonseca said, adding that by his estimates, “the cost of six well-paid government lawyers could easily reach $750,000.”
Fonseca said the decision must be appealed, but pointed out that the father’s legal defense fund is already $12,000 in the red. “Add a nearly $1-million punitive invoice from Wynne’s lawyers, and it imperils the father’s ability to continue fighting for all our parental rights.”
Iacobelli echoed this, noting the court challenge has cost $70,000 so far. “This is how they stop you from speaking out,” he said. “It’s so unjust.”
Polizogopoulos was still reviewing the decision and not able to comment on his client’s position at deadline.
Donations to Tourloukis’ legal defense fund can be made at this website.