How Bill 10 impacts homeschooling in Alberta
Governments never strip citizens of fundamental freedoms without pointing to a good cause as the justification. National security, public safety, equality rights and ending discrimination are examples of justifications claimed by governments to attack the citizens’ freedoms of expression, association, religion and conscience.
When a government seeks to remove from parents their natural right to choose the kind of education to be given to their own children, government knows it needs an extra-compelling “poster child” to justify violating this freedom. And what better “poster child” than the prevention and eradication of bullying?
Most people can identify personally with the pain, anxiety, fear and humiliation inflicted on victims of bullying, because they have experienced this themselves or know someone who has. Few would disagree that it’s immoral to threaten, coerce, intimidate or abuse another person. Therefore, any anti-bullying measure proposed by government is bound to be popular at first blush. And anyone opposing the new measure will, at least initially, face an uphill fight in the court of public opinion. But citizens who truly love justice will always ask the same tough questions of any new law: Why is it necessary? What problem does the law seek to solve or address? Is the new law likely to actually solve the problem? What rights or freedoms would be compromised by this legislation?
Alberta’s Bill 10 requires every school in Alberta to host a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) and “activities” (not defined) upon the request of a student. This law has been in force since June of 2015.
Nobody disagrees with Bill 10’s “poster child” of creating a welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment in Alberta’s schools. But how Bill 10 tries to do this – by requiring religious schools to host clubs and activities that are hostile to the school’s mission, beliefs, character and culture – violates both religious freedom and parental rights.
GSAs are ideological clubs, embracing and promoting a wide range of sexual expression that is incompatible with the morality of many faiths, including most denominations of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. On their own websites, GSAs speak of curing society of “homophobia” and “heterosexism”. This includes denouncing people as “fascist” if they do not support gay sex or gay marriage. One can argue that the GSA ideology is correct. But one cannot pretend that GSAs are neutral, or compatible with traditional religious teaching about human sexuality.
By imposing ideological clubs and activities on every school, Bill 10 removes the right of parents to have a meaningful say about the culture, character and learning environment of the schools that their children attend. Principals no longer have the authority to work with parents and teachers to develop what they see as the best ways to address bullying. Instead, principals are legally obligated to help establish an ideological club, or to help facilitate an “activity”, if one or more students so demand. The Alberta Government has stated that parents will not be notified if their children attend a club, or participate in an activity, that is contrary to morals taught at home.
While children should be heard and consulted, they should not be given authority to make the rules that govern our homes, schools, associations or communities. Our laws prohibit minors from purchasing alcohol and tobacco, joining the army, voting and much else. Most Albertans understand that, while we love and respect our children, we also recognize that they lack the experience and maturity to make adult decisions. These simple truths were lost on Alberta MLAs, who passed Bill 10 in March of 2015, only hours after it was introduced. Neither parents nor members of the public were consulted about the specific wording of the Bill that was rushed through that day. MLAs kept their own constituents in the dark, presenting a fait accompli without any input from parents.
A free society fosters frank and honest debate about sexual orientation, gender identity, sexual morality and related issues. Debate is the best way for truth to emerge triumphant over falsehood. Different opinions about these issues will invariably lead to a demand for different kinds of schools, each with its own perspectives and policies, from which parents can choose the best education for their children. Parents love their own children more – and know their own children better – than any politician, bureaucrat or lobbyist. Children don’t come one-size-fits-all, so education shouldn’t either.
As a top-down, one-size-fits-all requirement, Bill 10 disrespect parents and their legal right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children. This right is particularly important for the parents of a child who struggles with gender identity, or who feels confused about sexual orientation.
The ability of Alberta parents to continue homeschooling their children depends on government recognizing and respecting the right of parents to choose the kind of education given to their children. Most homeschooling parents are not impacted directly or immediately by Bill 10, because their children are unlikely to request a club or activity that parents disagree with. But if homeschooling parents remain silent in the face of Bill 10’s aggressive and vicious assault on the rights of other parents, the resulting loss of freedom will surely threaten the ability of homeschooling parents to homeschool their own children. Freedom is a seamless garment. You cannot unravel only one thread of this garment and expect it to remain intact. A violation of one person’s fundamental freedoms threatens everyone’s freedom. The respect – or lack of respect – that a government has for parents’ rights in education impacts every child and every family. This is why homeschooling parents should work to repeal Bill 10, and do so actively and publicly.
Calgary lawyer John Carpay is president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (www.jccf.ca) and a speaker at AHEA’s April 8-9, 2016 conference in Red Deer.