Back in 2015, Alberta’s Progressive Conservative government passed legislation requiring every school in Alberta to set up a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), if a student requested such a club.
This law (Bill 10) removed the right of parents, teachers and principals to have the final say over what clubs are, or are not, established at a school.
Critics said this new law undermined the right of parents to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children, a right recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Critics said that GSAs would undermine the unique nature and distinctive character of Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Catholic and other Christian schools.
Alberta government claims that Gay-Straight Alliance has no ideology
The Alberta government, both under the PCs and the NDP, said the critics were paranoid and uptight: “GSAs are just support groups for vulnerable kids to connect over pizza at lunch time.” For the past 3½ years, the government has continued to insist that GSAs have no ideology, or at least no ideology that is hostile to any religion.
In March of 2016, Alberta’s Education Minister David Eggen received copies of the anti-bullying policies of every school in Alberta, which he had requested. Since March of 2016, Eggen has refused to tell schools what, if anything, was wrong with their anti-bullying policies. While not communicating with the schools, Eggen has told the media several times that some (unnamed) independent schools have failed to pass anti-bullying policies that conform to his vision.
Education minister demands schools drop spiritual teachings from anti-bullying policies
But now, after 2½ years of silence, Alberta Education has finally provided religious schools with specific feedback about their anti-bullying policies. In September of 2018, religious schools across Alberta received threatening letters from the office of the education minister, demanding they drop spiritual teachings and content from their anti-bullying policies.
For example: “We believe men and women were created in the image of God, after His likeness, and therefore have transcendent, intrinsic worth.” This assertion, claims the Alberta Government, is contrary to creating a “welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment.”
Also prohibited is a school’s assertion that “God created mankind as male and female, equal in dignity and worth, yet with distinct and complementary roles.” Anti-bullying policies may not refer to “the unchangeable and infallible truth of the Word of God,” because this fails to respect Eggen’s definition of “diversity.”
Eggen claims that religious schools can still teach about God, truth, kindness, forgiveness and loving your neighbour, but only in the classroom. Religious ideas and principles must be banished from a school’s anti-bullying policies, insists Eggen, or else the school will lose its funding or accreditation or both.
David Eggen is threatening educational diversity
The arrogance here is palpable. Ideas about loving your neighbour and treating the vulnerable with compassion are inherently spiritual and metaphysical, and originated thousands of years before Eggen was born. Yet Eggen wants religious values removed from anti-bullying policies. He uses his political power and superior position to threaten and intimidate small independent schools into doing his bidding. Who is the bully here?
Arrogance and bullying aside, the government is attacking the integrity of schools, by insisting that a school’s core beliefs, unique character and guiding principles cannot permeate and influence every aspect of a school’s policies and activities. This is profoundly disrespectful of diversity, but that irony is lost on Eggen.
The reason different schools exist in the first place is to fulfill the unique vision, beliefs and mission of diverse school communities. Integrity means practicing and implementing one’s principles consistently, across the board. For a religious school, integrity means that the school’s core convictions will permeate all school policies, including policies that prohibit bullying.
Eggen’s bullying tactics are inflicting stress and anxiety on thousands of Alberta parents, teachers and children. This cloud does have a small silver lining: the government has finally stopped lying about GSAs being ideologically neutral.
Ordering schools to remove religious references from their anti-bullying policies, on threat of defunding, shows that GSA laws really do threaten parental rights and religious freedom. Just as the critics said in 2015.
Lawyer John Carpay is president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which represents parents and schools who have commenced a constitutional challenge to certain provisions of Alberta’s GSA legislation.