CAMROSE, AB: The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF.ca) has filed a court application on behalf of Cornerstone Christian Society of Camrose (the Society) and three parents of children who attend Cornerstone Christian Academy (Cornerstone), against the Battle River School Division No. 31 (“BRSD”). The court application seeks to overturn BRSD’s decision to terminate its agreement with the Society, after the Society refused a demand to censor Biblical references in its curriculum.
The Applicants’ court application seeks judicial review of the decision of the Battle River School Division (“BRSD”) to unilaterally terminate the Master Agreement between the Society and BRSD. The court application also seeks a declaration that the decision made by BRSD on June 29, 2017 to terminate the Master Agreement is unreasonable, is a breach of the Master Agreement, was done in bad faith, is contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and is otherwise invalid. The application also seeks an injunction preventing the closure of Cornerstone until a court determines the lawfulness of the decision to close the school.
From 1986 to 2009, Cornerstone Christian Academy was managed by the Society as a private school. In 2009, the Society and BRSD agreed that Cornerstone would join BRSD as an alternative program. The Society and BRSD executed Master Agreements to this effect in August 2009, and again in 2010 and 2015. The Master Agreements were prepared by counsel for BRSD, and state that Cornerstone would be a religious alternative program based on orthodox Christian beliefs and the Bible. On July 1, 2015, the Master Agreement was renewed for a five-year term by BRSD and the Society.
The Master Agreement states:
The Board recognizes and supports the commitment of the Society in ensuring the availability of a program of studies for students whose parents desire an educational setting which operates in accordance with the religious beliefs, core values, and educational philosophy of Cornerstone Christian Academy of Camrose and the Society.[Emphasis added]
In April 2016, it was discovered that an oversight had left the School Vision and Purpose document out of the revised Master Agreement in 2015, even though it had been included in each prior version of the Master Agreements.
On January 30th, 2017, Imogene Walsh, BRSD Assistant Superintendent of Business emailed the Society regarding the proposed Vision and Purpose Document stating that one of the many Scripture references in the proposed Vision and Purpose Document, I Corinthians 6:9-11, must be removed. Ms. Walsh further stated in the email, “[b]ased on the position of the Minister of Education and Alberta Education, we do not support leaving this reference in the document”. No legislative provision was cited by BRSD to authorize the removal of the Verses. The Verses reflect Evangelical religious beliefs that BRSD was aware are foundational to the Applicants’ and Cornerstone’s religious character, including the following religious beliefs:
- God created people to be biologically male or female;
- God created human sexuality;
- Sexuality is to be enjoyed by two people of the opposite sex (one male, one female) within a monogamous marriage relationship;
- Marriage was created by God to be the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, for life.
On May 27, BRSD Chair Laurie Skori confirmed a demand to the Society that “any scripture that could be considered offensive to particular individuals should not be read or studied in school” and suggested that Cornerstone was not in compliance with the School Act and human rights legislation.
On June 8, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF.ca) wrote to BRSD explaining that the BRSD demand was illegal as violating the School Act, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and principles of administrative law. Later the same day, on June 8, merely hours after receiving the letter from the Justice Centre, BRSD Chair Laurie Skori responded by indicating that the letter changed nothing in respect of her May 27 demand to stop reading and studying “offensive” scriptures.
On June 19, the BRSD Committee, Ms. Skori, Ms. Walsh and BRSD’s counsel met with members of the Society and its legal counsel. At the meeting, Ms. Skori and BRSD’s counsel asserted that “human rights” required that no “offensive” Scripture could be taught at Cornerstone. BRSD claimed that Cornerstone was in breach of legislation, but BRSD’s counsel refused to say what legislative provision was being infringed. Several BRSD trustees apologized to the Society for the irrational and unreasonable conduct of BRSD.
On June 23, BRSD presented the Society with a proposed addendum to the Master Agreement. The addendum required the Society to cease from communicating with Cornerstone teachers and staff (including the principal) without the prior permission of BRSD. The addendum also prevented the Society from discussing BRSD’s demands and decisions with Cornerstone parents, such as the May 2017 demand to censor Biblical verses at Cornerstone.
The Society responded to the addendum requirement on June 27, stating that it was a gag order, and that it unlawfully interfered with the Society’s ability to communicate with both parents and staff. The proposed addendum would also have made it impossible to hold elected officials accountable for their conduct in government.
On June 29, 2017, BRSD notified the Society that it was terminating the Agreement between BRSD and the Society. Unless the Decision is stayed temporarily pending a court’s adjudication, BRSD will no longer operate Cornerstone Christian Academy as of June 30, 2018.
“In deciding to close Cornerstone, BRSD acted out of anti-religious prejudice and ideological discrimination, and lost sight of the best interests of the children,” explained Calgary lawyer and Justice Centre president John Carpay.
“In attempting to censor the teaching of Biblical sexuality, and in attempting to prevent the Society from communication with staff and parents, BRSD breached its obligations under the Master Agreement, the School Act, the Alberta Bill of Rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” continued Carpay.