Ontario Catholic School Boards…
… have their knickers in a twist over the Ontario Government’s insistence that Catholic schools allow Gay-Straight alliances in their schools as part of the overall provincial anti-bullying strategy.
You see, they want to have a faith-based education system within a secular system of government. And they want control over what is permitted in that system and what is not. And they want all Ontarians – Catholic and not – to pay for it.
They also want more or less total control over the last say about what student groups are sanctioned by the schools. Only those whose raison d’être fits within the Catholic mold need apply.
On Friday, Laurel Broten, Ontario Minister of Education, said that gay students who want to create support groups will be allowed to call their clubs “gay-straight alliances,” or GSAs. This is part of the province’s proposed Bill 13, which is intended to stop bullying in the school system. The decision to allow students to call their clubs GSAs is a recent amendment. The Catholic Church says it is, of course, opposed to bullying but does not want clubs called gay-straight alliances. Rather, the Catholic schools have proposed something called “respecting differences” groups that could cover bullying in general but also specific issues such as homosexuality.
On Monday, the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association held a press conference to try to explain their objections to GSAs and why their model would be better. However, the message was not exactly clear.
There is a court challenge threatened by the head Cardinal of somethingorother. Loud is the hue and cry about the “trampling” of religious freedom. This is an argument would hold some water if it were not for the fact that you and I, Catholic or not, are funding this discriminatory parallel education system and we elect representatives to work at Queen’s Park to set the rules about how these dollars should be allocated. This is the PUBLIC purse – not a private one where the Arch-Bishop-Cardinal dudes would have every right to scream “discrimination!”.
Perhaps times are changing. Rather than a forced marriage of the separate and public systems, we may be moving toward a bitter divorce (or more properly, an annulment). Not at the instigation of politicians or voters, but by the hand of the church itself should it walk away.
A court challenge would be a good thing. Actually, it could be the beginning of the end to the duplicate system. Once the Pandora’s Box is opened, then there is a strong likelihood that there could be a constructive and vigourous debate on the future of the Catholic system in Ontario. Ontarians would have their eyes opened – and they would insist that their politicians do likewise.
And maybe, just maybe, one of the political parties will have the balls to suggest that the Constitution should be amended – thus paving the way to end the wastefulness that Bill Davis began, oh so many years ago.
Cardinal Thomas Collins, the archbishop of Toronto, is accusing the government of trampling “religious freedom” over changes that would let Catholic students call their anti-homophobia support groups “gay” clubs if they choose to do that. “Why is a piece of provincial legislation being used to micromanage the naming of student clubs?” asks Collins.
That’s a fair question. Here’s the simple answer: Ontario’s publicly funded Catholic education system has refused to get with the program and truly support its gay students. Anytime the province has given Catholic bishops and trustees a little leeway to do the right thing for gay students they have failed to do so. Now, they are, rightly, set to lose the ability to decide.
Trying to evoke some broad church and state war, as Collins did in his statement, is also bound to be a loser. In a warning to people “of other faiths,” Collins said, “if it happens to us, it can happen to you.”
This is nothing short of ridiculous. Every other faith group in Ontario can only dream of having what Catholics have – $7 billion in annual taxpayer funding for a separate school system. And just what religious freedom is Collins fighting to defend? The freedom to ban the word “gay” from Catholic schools? To shove gay teens back into the closet and make them feel like second-class citizens?
The church may be comfortable with that but it isn’t acceptable in our public school system. As McGuinty said on Tuesday, Ontario has “fundamental values that transcend any one faith.”
Gay-straight alliances and other clubs are places where students can receive much-needed support to get through what can be pretty tough days at school. These student clubs are not a threat to the Catholic education system.
But the church’s intransigence on this issue may well be. Each time Catholic officials and trustees show themselves to be well behind what their students want and broader society supports, they inevitably renew calls to pull public funding from Catholic schools.
ONE SCHOOL SYSTEM FOR ONTARIO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!