EDMONTON, Alberta, August 24, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – The New Democratic government of Alberta has apparently forgotten its duty to protect religious freedom and parental rights in the wake of Education Minister David Eggen’s open letter promising LGBT students the right to express their sexual proclivities in defiance of the religious beliefs that are foundational to many Alberta Christian and public schools.
Meanwhile, the province’s two self-professed conservative parties have apparently forgotten their duty to oppose the government, maintaining a hear-no-evil, see-no-evil, speak-no-evil inaction when faced with the Eggen letter.
“The government is not recognizing parental rights or religious freedom,” Brian Coldwell, pastor of a Spruce Grove church and head of the Independent Baptist Christian Education Society, told LifeSiteNews.
Coldwell, whose society runs two private schools with 200 students and 1,200 homeschool students, was also strongly critical of the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties for the unwillingness to act. “We are very disappointed. Behind the scenes, they have told us it is up to use to rouse the parents, to get the media on our side and do the job of the opposition (and) if and when we do, they will be happy to take over and take all the credit.”
Only a handful of parental rights groups, Protestant pastors, and the never-reticent Catholic Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary are speaking up. Donna Trimble of Parents for Choice in Education says Eggen’s open letter is simply “dishonest,” guaranteeing LGBT students they can have homosexual clubs in any school in Alberta, including in schools theologically and morally opposed to homosexuality and transgenderism.
These are taxpayer-supported conservative Protestant, Muslim and Jewish public and private schools that make Alberta’s school system one of the most pluralistic and successful on the planet, plus the publicly funded Catholic separate school boards created more than 100 years ago to prevent precisely this kind of ideological abuse by the majority against the minority.
Bishop Henry says the letter is a new expression of the New Democrats’ “totalitarianism” and an attempt to go around parents and their elected school boards in the way demagogues have always gone around conservative and traditional institutions and appeal through media directly to the masses.
Henry is advocating that parents resist using the social media. Because Eggen has invited students to email his personal staff directly at [email protected] if their school boards or staff resist their desire to have homosexual clubs or use washrooms of the opposite sex, Bishop Henry wants them to shower Eggen with their own emails in protest.
But the senior Catholic cleric in Alberta, Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, refused to comment on Eggen’s open letter. Meanwhile, Eggen has reportedly hired a consultant to help the Edmonton Catholic School District (the largest Catholic separate district in Alberta) move into compliance with the government’s anti-bullying guidelines. These guidelines require school districts to allow transgender students to play on sports teams, use changing rooms and washrooms of their chosen gender identity, and bunk with their chosen gender on field trips.
“Not on my watch,” Pastor Coldwell told LifeSiteNews. He said he has received legal advice assuring him that the government cannot make Christian schools comply with regulations against their beliefs. “I know at least a dozen boards, public and private that have reported to the government they cannot comply with the guidelines, and some Catholic boards on top of that.”
As for his own board, “We have a 95 percent positive rating from our parents and students on bullying. Our parents and students come to our schools because they agree with our Christian beliefs. We cannot allow gay straight alliance clubs because covertly or overtly they undermine our Christian beliefs by promoting homosexual behavior.”
As for transgender students’ bathroom needs, Coldwell said, “There is no reason why this cannot be addressed by gender neutral washrooms.” But he is adamant that the Biblical basis for how his schools handle the gender issue is found in Genesis and repeated by Jesus. “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female'?”
However, Eggen does not want to talk about parental rights or religious freedom. In an email exchange between LifeSiteNews and Eggen press secretary Larissa Liepins, she said, “Education Minister David Eggen has been very clear and consistent that no boards will be exempt from following the law. He has continued to work with boards on their policies throughout the summer and those efforts have had largely positive results. Any suggestions that parents are being shut out of their child’s education are baseless.”
Nonetheless, Trimble insists that Eggen told her group at a March meeting that parents’ rights would be respected and nobody would be forced to follow the guidelines as long as they found a way to combat bullying, nor forced to permit self-professed transgender students to use private facilities of the opposite sex.
She cites a letter from Eggen in March that said: “Each school community is unique and that school authorities are in the best position to create policies that will work for their students, staff and families. In addition to consulting the guidelines, school authorities are encouraged to engage with their communities as they seek to align their policies and procedures with legislation and with their own local context.”
Leipins was asked several times to address the religious rights of parents. Each time she responded with a formula: “Existing legislation (the School Act, Alberta Human Rights Act, Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms) sets out expectations that boards are expected to follow,” without using the phrase “religious freedom” or “religion” or “parental rights.”
At least she responded. Calls to the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose education critics drew no response, nor did calls to Wildrose leader Brian Jean or his chief of staff, or to Jason Kenney, who is campaigning for the leadership of the Progressive Conservatives with the aim of uniting it with Wildrose, which has pledged to protect parental rights. Kenney is in Ukraine.