Carpay: School Boards have no right to censor sacred texts

Posted on Jun 20, 2017 in Justice Update, Latest Updates

Should Alberta’s religious schools be required to censor their own sacred texts, in order to conform with current popular beliefs and fashions?

On May 27, the Battle River School Division, based in Camrose, ordered Cornerstone Christian Academy to refrain from reading or studying “any scripture that could be considered offensive to particular individuals.”  Board Chairman Laurie Skori claimed that human rights legislation prevents religious schools from teaching what a child, or a parent, might find “offensive.”

In making this demand, the school board ignored its own written legal agreement with this Christian school.  The very purpose of this agreement is to fulfil the government’s objective to support diversity and parent choice through alternative programs.  This is why Alberta has public, charter, Catholic, independent, and various religious schools: to respect the fact that not everyone shares the same belief system or world view.

Ms. Skori wants to censor Bible verses in the name of human rights.  She forgets that, according to the Charter, Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.  The first human right that is listed and protected in the Charter is freedom of conscience and religion.  This freedom is worthless if subjected to a popularity contest among people who don’t agree with one (or any) particular religion or moral teaching.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Canada is a signatory, requires the government (including school boards) to respect the liberty of parents “to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.”  The religious or other convictions of Laurie Skori, and other school board trustees, are irrelevant.  What matters is the convictions of parents.  Parents in Camrose, Kingman, Tofield and other towns send their children to Cornerstone Christian Academy because those parents agree with the school’s commitment to integrate knowledge of the Bible into the approved Alberta curriculum.

In a similar vein, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.”  Ms. Skori and other trustees enjoy this same freedom: to send their own kids to various schools that align with their  beliefs and convictions.  But these trustees have no right to impose their own ideology on schools they disagree with.

The Supreme Court of Canada requires governments at all levels to be neutral.  Therefore, a school board cannot dictate which verses in the Torah, Koran, New Testament or Guru Granth Sahib are acceptable or not.  The nature of the religious instruction in Alberta’s diverse range of schools is rightfully determined by parents.  Many religious teachings are offensive to atheists, relativists, hedonists and materialists.  This cuts both ways: the morality (or lack thereof) that is taught in public schools is offensive to religious parents.  Government neutrality is meant to preserve and promote multiculturalism and true diversity, not to impose a “one-size-fits all” model on every school.

Further, almost anything could be considered offensive by someone.  The son of a pig farmer may feel offended when he learns that some religions think that eating pork is sinful.  This shouldn’t matter, because pig farmers are not likely to send their children to Jewish or Islamic schools.  If pig farmers do send their children to such a school, other people need to respect the parents’ decision.  Parents love their own children far more than any politician, bureaucrat, or political activist loves other people’s children.  In fact, ideologues don’t actually love other people’s children.  Rather, they seek to indoctrinate other people’s children into a worldview that parents disagree with.

The Battle River School Division has set a deadline of June 27 for resolving this conflict with Cornerstone Christian Academy.  Hopefully the parties will reach an agreement that respects true diversity, religious freedom, and parental rights in education.

Calgary lawyer John Carpay is president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (www.jccf.ca), which represents Cornerstone Christian Academy in its conflict with the Battle River School District.