OTTAWA — Canada’s largest province is forcing its taxpayer-supported Catholic schools to let homosexual students start their own clubs.
The Accepting Schools Act received final reading by the provincial parliament on June 5, with the support of the governing Liberals and their allies in the socialist New Democratic Party. The Catholic bishops and school trustees opposed it, along with various parents’ rights groups and the Evangelical Federation of Canada, but teachers groups, including the English Catholic Teachers Association and homosexual-rights groups such as EGALE Canada, supported it.
“Today is about saying to Ontario students, ‘You can be who you are. You will be safe and accepted at school, and the Ontario government supports you in that desire,’” Education Minister Laurel Broten said after the vote.
But Cardinal Thomas Collins, president of the Ontario Assembly of Catholic Bishops, deplored the move as an attack on religious freedom.
“We are all committed to obeying the law, but we can question whether the law is wise, whether the law is just, or whether the law is a kind of intrusion or limiting of religious freedom,” he said.
Others are questioning whether the Catholic bishops did enough to oppose the bill. They did not appear personally at legislative hearings, nor did they have their position published in church bulletins or make any appeal to the faithful to lobby members of the provincial parliament, a standard tactic of American Catholic bishops at the state level.
“I don’t think it’s just a reasonable strategy to rally people in the pews,” Peter Stockland told the National Post. “It’s an imperative strategy.” Stockland, who is senior fellow with Cardus, a church-state think tank based in Hamilton, Ontario, said, “This is not about gay rights versus somebody else’s rights. This is about Charter [of Rights and Freedoms] rights to religious freedom.”
But Joanne McGarry, executive director of the Toronto-based Catholic Civil Rights League of Canada, said, “Well, if there is going to be any finger pointing, the finger should point at the Ontario government. They pretended up until the 11th hour that they were listening to Catholic educators. Then they went ahead and did this.”
“It’s no secret what the agenda of the gay-rights organizations is,” McGarry told the Register. “They want it taught that all [sexual] orientations are on a level playing field.”
McGarry said homosexual-rights groups have been using lawsuits to back Catholic schools into a corner where they won’t be able to teach Catholic sexual morality at all. “Whenever a homosexual student has complained about how a Catholic school has responded to a concern, various gay activist groups have been quick to take up their cause.”
The bill not only requires all schools to allow students to form “gay-straight alliance” clubs — intended to prevent bullying against homosexuals — but under an 11th-hour amendment by the government, they must allow students to call them “gay-straight alliances,” an apparent attack on the Catholic system, whose trustees believed until then the government would let them call theirs “Respecting Differences” clubs and let them address all kinds of bullying. Under pressure from homosexual lobby groups, however, the government chose to treat both the public and Catholic systems equally.
Surveys of Canadian students have found sexual orientation to be a miniscule pretext for bullying, far behind body image and grades. But the homosexual-rights lobby group EGALE Canada’s 2011 survey of students reported 74% of “transgendered” students and 55% of homosexual students have been verbally harassed about their gender expression, and 21% of both groups had been physically harassed.
McGarry, of the Catholic Civil Rights League, said the legislation appears not to prohibit schools from putting adults in the clubs as supervisors. Possibly, she said, these supervisors could impart Catholic teaching on homosexual acts, which is that it is “intrinsically disordered,” while homosexual persons are to be “accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.”
Basing itself on sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” As the Catechism notes, “They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstance can they be approved” (2357).
As the Catechism continues, “The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. They must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition” (2358).
But there is widespread skepticism about the Catholic school system’s ability to maintain a meaningful distinction between the sinner and the sin with respect to homosexuality. Toronto Globe and Mail columnist Tabitha Southey said that if the Catholic schools are allowed to teach the Catholic moral position, “it means that an exceptionally vulnerable minority will be told that it is a sin to act on or even fantasize about any attraction to a member of the same sex at any point in their lifetime.”
At least two ministers of parliament, Glen Murray and Cheri De Novo, have said the new law means the Catholic Church must stop teaching that homosexual acts are a sin.
Many pundits joined Mike Schreiner, the leader of the Green Party, in calling for the closure of the Catholic system.
“This absolutely is an example of how dangerous it is when you start funding one religion at the exclusion of all others. We’re talking about cutting essential services, including a number of services in the education sector, without even considering or having a conversation about the most obvious source of duplication in the system,” said Schreiner.
So the issue has shifted from the clubs to whether the Catholic schools should receive public funding. Ontario started providing some funding for Catholic schools in the 1850s, when it was still a British colony. When Canada became a nation, Ontario’s Catholic schools were guaranteed by the new constitution. Both systems teach the government curriculum, except for religion.
In recent years, pressure from sexual “minorities” has increased on the government to prevent the Catholic schools from teaching Catholic morality or from treating homosexual activity as they treat any other immoral activities.
For Teresa Pierre, director of a Catholic parents group called Parents as First Educators, it is a matter not just of saving tax dollars, but of parental rights to teach their children morality.
“The Church’s position on homosexuals is not different than any group struggling to abide by Catholic teaching,” she said. “It is no different than straight teens who are sexually active. We wouldn’t have clubs centered around birth control.”
The group’s opinion of the new law is expressed clearly in the headline on its website: “Bill 13 throws mainline religions under the bus.” It continues, “The province is pushing kids toward a type of social engineering that the ethical codes of most of the major world religions oppose.”
Register correspondent Steve Weatherbe writes from Victoria, British Columbia.