Why Was a Canadian Student Expelled From Catholic School for Opposing Transgender Bathroom Policy?
His expulsion and subsequent arrest for organizing protests against the policy — which allows biological males to use girls’ bathrooms — raises the question of whether U.S. schools might be forced to adopt similar practices.
The religious liberty rights of Canadian high school student Josh Alexander gained international attention earlier this month when his opposition to his Catholic high school’s transgender bathroom policy on biblical grounds led to his suspension and arrest.
The 16-year-old’s case, which occurred in a school in eastern Ontario, also reveals that some Canadian Catholic schools are diverging from Church teaching with polices such as allowing students to use bathrooms based on their gender identity — and U.S. Catholic schools may be facing pressures to do the same.
Alexander and his attorney plan to file a human rights complaint for violation of religious freedom, but in the court of public opinion there is both acceptance and resistance to gay and transgender ideology including bathroom policies, sources say.
Canadian Catholic schools’ promotion of gender ideology could signal Church collapse as children are taught to reject Biblical and Church teaching, said Jack Fonseca, director of political operations for Campaign Life Coalition, a pro-life organization based in Hamilton, Ontario, that works at all levels of government to secure full legal protection for all persons from conception to natural death.
“It’s that momentous a thing, what has happened with our schools, the brainwashing and inculcation of hatred for Catholic biblical teaching.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in Paragraph 355, quotes Genesis 1:27 as “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.” This fundamental male-female duality of human beings is referenced in Paragraphs 383, 2331, and 2334, as well. The Catechism also cites Scripture and tradition as reasons for not condoning homosexual acts (2357).
What Happened to the Student
Alexander shared his belief that there are two sexes, and that people are born either male or female while other students and the teacher also expressed views about sexuality and gender during class debates this fall at St. Joseph Catholic High School in Renfrew, Ontario, located about 60 miles west of the capital of Ottawa.
The 11th-grader also approached the school’s principal to advocate for female students who shared with him concerns about biological males using their bathrooms. When the administration didn’t address the issue, Alexander led 200 students in a walk out.
The school suspended Alexander in November. As he attempted to attend classes on Feb. 6, he was arrested for trespassing. He is excluded from attending the school for the rest of the school year, according to the website of Liberty Coalition Canada of which Alexander’s attorney, James Kitchen, is chief litigator.
Kitchen wrote in a Jan. 6 letter to the St. Joseph Catholic High School principal:
“Josh has been penalized for expressing his Christian beliefs regarding gender and modesty, beliefs which also happen to align with both objective truth and actual safety. Josh not only has a right to express himself during class discussions and through public forums, he also has a right not to be discriminated against by his school for his sincere religious beliefs. Being suspended and excluded from attending classes is the height of discrimination.”
Alexander, who attends a Baptist church, said his belief system is similar to that of the Catholic Church. In an interview with the National Post, he said, “I think I used to be seen as a Christian kid following my beliefs, but now apparently I’m the rebel,” he said. “The school knows I’m not trying to be a problematic kid. The police know that as well. They didn’t even put me in cuffs when they arrested me. They know that I wasn’t actually a threat to anybody.”
The Canadian Context
The Ontario Human Rights Code states that facilities including schools should give access to the washroom that corresponds with their “lived gender identity.” However, the code also protects citizens on grounds of creed or religious belief.
The Renfrew County Catholic District School Board is one of many Canadian Catholic school boards that have given in to pressure from the government, media and liberal board members in promoting transgender bathroom and other policies, Fonseca said.
“By and large they have all bowed to this transgender ideology and are allowing biological males into girls washrooms and not only that, but actively persecuting any faithful Catholic who speaks out against it,” he said.
The school board, which governs 21 elementary and secondary schools, said in a Feb. 13 statement on its website that as an inclusive learning community, it takes a pastoral care approach in supporting transgender youth, which may include walking with them as they decide to “access the washroom of their lived gender.”
One reason Canadian Catholic school boards are adopting these policies is that Church leadership has been silent on the issue, Fonseca said. “The bishops in Canada at least they’re not speaking, they’re not preaching against the dangers of transgender ideology in general or in our schools and they’re allowing it to run through.”
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops did not respond to several requests for comment.
Union and Government Pressure
Also influencing school board policies is the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association, which provides religious education courses for teachers and helps develop curriculum, he said. “They have for years railed against Catholic teaching on homosexuality and transgenderism,” Fonseca said.
Declining to comment on the Alexander case, Barb Dobrowolski, president of the Toronto-based association, said in a statement that while school boards are responsible for creating policies and protocols, the association “continues to add the strength of our voice in the advocacy of intersecting equity issues such as racism, ableism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia that impact our 2SLGBTQIA+ communities, including students, teachers, and education workers.”
The provincial governments running the Canadian education system in most provinces also put pressure on Catholic schools to comply, Fonseca said. K-12 Catholic education in Ontario, home to almost 40% of the Canadian population, is taxpayer funded.
The Canadian constitution contains a provision that allows Catholic school boards to reject government programs that go against faith and morals, but they don’t because many members support liberal ideology, Fonseca said.
U.S. Catholic schools aren’t currently facing legal pressure to adopt transgender bathroom policies, according to Greg Baylor, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based legal organization focusing on religious freedom, free speech, life and family issues.
Most of the schools are privately funded and directed through dioceses rather than Catholic school boards.
But while they operate within a substantially different legal and administrative framework than their Canadian counterparts, they are impacted by the same cultural pressures that have contributed to the implementation of “LGBT-friendly” policies in Canadian Catholic schools and also in American public schools.
Last May President Joe Biden announced that schools receiving Food and Nutrition Services funding for school lunches would be required to enforce the administration’s ban on discrimination on the basis of gender identity, and allow biological males into girls’ bathrooms.
But even if Catholic schools receive lunch funding or any other federal financial assistance, a religious exemption under Title IX of the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects religious schools from being compelled to go against their beliefs, Baylor said.
On the other hand, if the proposed federal Equality Act becomes law, it could leave private schools that receive any kind of federal financial assistance vulnerable to litigation over sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination claims, he said. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the act in both of the last two congresses but it failed to gain Senate approval. The bill is not likely to be brought for a vote in the Republican-controlled House in the next two years, Baylor said.
Catholic schools will come under increasing pressure from school accrediting bodies and government agencies, Bill Donohue, president of the New York, N.Y.-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights said in a statement. “If the Equality Act were to become law — Biden wants it — it could arguably close Catholic hospitals and sanction Catholic doctors, and that is because it would force them to perform abortions and sex-reassignment surgeries.”
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops declined to comment on transgender bathroom policies and the possibility of a U.S. government mandate that applied to Catholic schools.
Cultural Tipping Point?
A 2019 University of Michigan poll found that 79% of young people ages 14-24 said they believe persons who identify as transgender should use the bathroom they are most comfortable with.
Fonseca said, “The culture has reached such a tipping point that even many parents who identify as Catholic agree with the LGBT agenda and many of the teachers do, so you have these teachers who actually believe in this stuff … with religious fervor.”
A single activist teacher can impact school culture, he said. “All it takes is some dissident teachers who disagree with Catholic teaching, and they feel it is their mission to overcome and destroy it on homosexuals, transgenderism and marriage and family and they just start pushing it as faculty as staff.”
On the other hand, a number of U.S. Catholic schools have fired teachers in recent years after finding they were in same-sex relationships. This month, a Catholic school teacher in Englewood, Colorado, was let go after discovery of a picture of her kissing another woman.
However, the situation in terms of upholding the Catholic identity of Catholic schools will likely get worse unless people of faith continue to fight back, Donohue said.
“We are living in a time of militant secularism throughout the Western world. The de-Christianization of the West has resulted in nihilism, or moral anarchy,” he said. “Unless churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, etc. fight back, they will have to bend to the secular agenda, and if that happens there is no reason to stay in business.”
Still, in the face of challenges God has surprised us through Bible history by raising up saints who change even dire situations, and Josh Alexander might be one of them, Fonseca said.
“God can use heroic young people and heroic older people as prophetic witnesses to wake the culture up, to wake up Catholics, and to reclaim their faith and come back to God.”