CALGARY: The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF.ca) will be in the Wetaskiwin Court of Queen’s Bench (4605 51 St, Wetaskiwin, AB) on Thursday, May 17, to seek an interlocutory injunction staying the decision of the Battle River School Division (BRSD) to close Cornerstone Christian Academy (Cornerstone), pending a court decision as to the lawfulness of the decision to close the school. The injunction hearing will commence at 2:00 p.m. and is open to the public.
In December 2017, the Justice Centre filed an application for judicial review on behalf of Cornerstone, and three parents of children who attend Cornerstone. The court application seeks to overturn BRSD’s June 2017 decision to terminate its agreement with Cornerstone, the Master Agreement, which will cause the closure of the school in June 2018, after it refused a BRSD demand to censor any portions of the Bible that may be considered offensive. The court application also seeks a declaration that the decision made by BRSD 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.
From 1986 to 2009, Cornerstone Christian Academy was managed as a private school. In 2009, Cornerstone joined BRSD as an alternative program. The Cornerstone Christian Academy of Camrose (the Society), which had managed Cornerstone, and BRSD executed Master Agreements to this effect in August 2009, and again in 2010 and 2015. The Master Agreements stated that Cornerstone would be a religious alternative program based on 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]
On January 30th, 2017, Imogene Walsh, BRSD Assistant Superintendent of Business emailed the Society regarding a proposed simplified version of the Cornerstone School 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”. After some discussion, the Society agreed to remove the reference.
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 alleged that Cornerstone was not in compliance with the School Actand human rights legislation.
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 the parties. Unless the decision to terminate the Master Agreement is stayed temporarily pending a court’s adjudication of the legality of the decision, Cornerstone will close as of June 30, 2018, and cause 170 kids to lose the school they love.