Tuesday, 21 May 2013

The "religious freedom" issue

A past logo of the Frontier Centre
for Public Policy.

Image obtained from the
Green Market Oracle
Waaayyyyyy back (by blog standards) at the end of March I discussed the hard right Frontier Centre for Public Policy's article on Bill 18. There I noted the (unwarranted) claim that the Safe and Inclusive schools measures in Bill 18 would impede discretion and sound teacher judgement.

Part of the two-pronged approach of rightwing opponents - particularly the Pallister CONs - has been to claim that this bill is too weak by not mandating specific penalties while simultaneously claiming it's too strong because it grants protections to all supportive, anti-bullying student groups - regardless of whether religious bullies approve.

The later half of the Frontier Centre's policy note details their opposition based on this "religious freedom" issue:

The other problem with this bill is that it threatens religious freedom. Specifically, Bill 18 requires all schools, including independent faith-based schools, to facilitate student groups that may undermine the schools’ religious values. In its enthusiasm to stamp out bullying, the Manitoba government appears prepared to run roughshod over the right of private religious schools to uphold their faith.


Obviously, some people will say that since some faith-based schools receive government funding, they should accept Bill 18 without question. However, the acceptance of funding should not eliminate the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom. Many parents, in fact, choose faith-based schools specifically because of the school’s values.

("Manitoba’s Bill 18 Fails the Test of Good Legislation". Clifton & Long & Zwaagstra. (Mar. 22, 2013). Frontier Centre for Public Policy)

The Frontier Centre's paper chastises the lack of religious freedom, while ignoring the elephant in the human: the right of gay students to basic human dignity and safety. Instead, the Frontier Centre seems to be treating the rights of certain religious fundamentalists to express their hate by denying gay students a safe space above the rights of gay students to a safe and supportive space. In short, it seems that the Frontier Centre is valuing the rights of religious bullies over students.

As the Evan Wiens case shows, there is an existing problem with school administrators obstructing gay-straigt alliances in climates where anti-gay bullying is severe.

But what about the constitutionality arguments? Does the right to religious freedom include the right to deny students the freedom to start a gay-straight alliance?
The American religious right was founded to oppose
the desegregation of parochial religious schools.

Do religious schools have the right to bar minorities
from attending because of "religious liberty"?

Image Source: QuestGarden

Well, Aaron Hildebrandt has a great resource refuting this:

The belief that Bill 18 takes away the right of religious schools to prevent LGBTQ students from discussing their sexual orientation or ban openly LGBTQ students from the school. However, schools have not had this ability since the Canadian Human Rights Act came into effect in 1977 (and sexual orientation was specifically added in 1996).
The Canadian Human Rights Act nor other human rights legislation, to the best of my knowledge, have been struck down for violating religious freedom. It's been well recognized in most western societies that religious freedom does not include the right to practice institutional discrimination.

 Take, for instance, the case of school desegregation. The US religious right was founded to oppose it. Regardless of their "religious freedom", you aren't allowed discriminate against a class of people just because you think God says it's okay. Given that's the case in the much more hands-off, laissez-faire to religion world of the US do you think that courts are going to buy that religious bigotry trumps laws protecting gay rights in Canada? Religious rights do not justify the infringement of the basic rights of all people to dignity and safety.

On a final note, I find it ironic that the Frontier Centre's in-house education analysts have tackled the supposedly grave religious freedom violation that voluntary Gay-Straight Alliances pose. Why?

Because I have yet to find their denunciations of politicians in favour of forcing religious & political objectors to attend assemblies. Involuntary mandates to attend assemblies seem a lot more intrusive than allowing voluntary Gay-Straight Alliances, don't you think?

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