HAMILTON, Ontario, June 23, 2011 ( – Hamilton’s Orthodox Christian community says two new policies at the public school board in their community bring back painful memories of attacks on their religious freedom they faced in totalitarian states before they sought freedom in Canada.

“Many of our people remember Communism, how they refused students and teachers the freedom to speak about their faith in state schools,” says Fr. William Makarenko, priest of St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church. “To think that Canadian schools would label kids, or silence kids for holding religious beliefs – that’s just scary.”

The Pan-Orthodox Association of Greater Hamilton, an association of local Orthodox churches, says that for many of Hamilton’s nearly 20,000 Orthodox Christians, two Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board policies – the Anti-Bullying Policy, and the Religious Accommodation Policy – look very much like the kind of attacks they experienced in their past.

The proposed “religious accommodation” policy is ostensibly designed to protect freedom of religion as part of the Ontario government’s controversial equity and inclusive education strategy. However, it’s definition of “creed” states, “Creed does not include secular, moral, or ethical beliefs or political convictions.”

Christian pro-family activists have pointed out that the policy appears to be deliberately designed to allow schools to exclude traditional moral beliefs.

The Christian organization noted that a recent report from Statistics Canada showed that hate crimes based on religion were up by 55% in 2009 – a larger increase than attacks on racial groups or gay and lesbian individuals.  Yet, they say, recent changes proposed by the school board seem to target staff and students with traditional beliefs as the cause of hate crimes, rather than as victims.

“Under these policies, students who report attacks based on their faith will have to prove their case before anything is done. The school board doesn’t require this of any other group. When it comes to religious beliefs, the school board is blaming the victim,” says Fr. Geoffrey Korz, general secretary of the Pan-Orthodox Association of Greater Hamilton.

The “religious accommodation” policy appears to dovetail with a leaked document from January 2010 in which the school board indicated children would not be permitted to withdraw from classes promoting homosexuality.  The document, distributed during “equity” training for teachers, advised the teachers to inform parents who object to “anti-homophobia” curriculum that “this is not about parent rights.”

“As teachers, we do not condone children being removed from our classes when we engage in anti-racism education.  This issue is no different,” the teachers were instructed to tell parents.  “All children, including yours, have a right to an education free from discrimination.”

“Students will have no recourse when the curriculum attacks their faith. Parents lose their right to pull their kids out of class when something directly opposes their beliefs,” said Fr. Korz. “People in Canada reject this sort of thing, and so should the school board.”

The group noted that much of the board’s policy has been designed with the intent to combat insults and bullying against homosexual students, but protest the fact that people of faith are not given the same treatment.

“Gay and lesbian groups are invited to sponsor seminars in schools, to put up posters for their cause, and their leaders are invited to help form school policy,” said Fr. Korz. “Why are our school trustees shutting the door to including people of faith in the same way – people who have experienced real, life-and- death persecution around the world?”

Contact Information:

Hon. Leona Dombrowsky, Minister of Education
Mowat Block, 22nd Flr
900 Bay St
Toronto, ON M7A 1L2
Tel: 1-800-387-5514 (TTY 1-800-263-2892)
Fax: 416-325-6348
Email: [email protected]

Elizabeth Witmer, Education Critic
Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario
Rm 422, Main Legislative Building
Toronto ON M7A 1A8
Tel: 416-325-1306
Fax: 416-325-1329
E-mail: Use this form.

John Malloy, Director of Education
Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board
100 Main St. West
P.O. Box 2558
Hamilton, ON L8N 3L1
Phone: (905) 527-5092 ext.2297
E-mail: [email protected] (through Executive Assistant)

Find contact information for trustees at the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board here.