Hi folks! I haven’t written in some time, but I thought perhaps this might be of interest. To keep those who might balk at the length of this diatribe interested enough to read further, I’ll just say that a situation has arisen in a town called Morinville, Alta, where it is not possible for parents to select a secular education for their children. For those that want to skip the history lesson, scroll thine eyes down five paragraphs. But the history lesson itself will surprise many people. I met someone who recently moved to here from British Columbia who had no idea that Alberta has a faith-based publicly-funded school system.
Canada does not have an explicit church-state separation. I wish it did. Had the Canadian Constitution been drawn up now rather than 30 years ago, I think it would. Religiopolitics in the US scares the bejesus out of us. Well, most of us. The current constitution relies very heavily on a previous act of British Parliament passed in 1867, the so-called British North America (BNA) Act. In it, it allows for religion-based school systems to remain publicly funded. This was a historical reality at the time, but has long since become an anachronism. Regions were settled by people of a single predominant faith and built public institutions before they entered Confederation and became provinces. These were predominantly Catholic, with a bit of Anglican thrown into the mix. The BNA Act provided for publicly-funded separate school systems for schools of religious faiths that existed prior to their entering into Confederation. (This led to an interesting situation when about 30 years after Manitoba entered into Confederation the provincial government decided to cease funding the Catholic school system, causing Pope Leo XIII to write a papal encyclical condemning the whole action. Fortunately, no one listened….)
Separate school systems exist in only a few provinces now – Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario. What prompted the ending of Catholic school system funding was simply a reality of a changing composition of the population. Canada is made up of many cultures. I saw one comment on one of the news stories I will cite that claimed Catholic schools are very multicultural. Sure, there are Catholics of Irish descent, Catholics of German descent,…. Somehow, I don’t think one would see too many Muslims, Jains, Jews or atheists on the playground.
Because only two faiths are represented (in Alberta there are two Anglican and sixteen Catholic school boards), in 1999 and again in 2005 the United Nations Human Rights Committee cited Ontario (and one would presumably think, by extension, Alberta and Saskatchewan, but as usual, everything in Canada outside of Toronto gets ignored….) for violating the equality provisions (Article 26) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
And let’s face it- only a secular education meets the needs of society. The whole thing could have been corrected when the Constitution was drawn up 30 years ago by recognizing this and tossing it out. Only 25% of people in Alberta are Catholic yet they rate a whole separate school system with all of its duplication of beaurocracy. There is a myth that Catholics who send their children pay for the separate school system through their taxes, but their tax dollars are woefully insufficient. The rest is made up by taxes collected from those that do not support a separate school system. But, no. The federal government chose the status quo rather than remove an historical anachronism that does not serve the public interest.
Okay. So what the hell does this have to do with the aforementioned scenario? What happened in Morinville is a direct result of the continued practice of having a separate school system and abandoning what (at least in my mind) should be obvious to anyone with a brain- the right to not have one’s children to be indoctrinated into a faith through education without their permission. Morinville, a town of 8,000 people and four schools, has no option for parents to secure a secular education for their children.
You read that correctly: there are four publicly-funded schools in the town of Morinville, every last one faith-based! The whole thing became public last December:
“My daughter came home the very first day from school and said, ‘Mom, God made the sky and God made the grass and God made the flowers – isn’t it nice that God made the flowers,’” Mrs. Hunter recalled of that first experience with Morinville schools. “I said, ‘Well, it’s very nice that your teacher believes in something and when you grow up, you can decide what you want to believe in.’ She said, ‘No, mommy. My teacher told me so. Why don’t you believe me?’
Some of the comments on the news story are amazing. I urge you to read them. To those commenters, I will say this: “Put the shoe on the other foot. Suppose you, as a believing Christian, heard your child tell you that her teacher told her that God does not exist. When you understand why you would find this unacceptable (oh, the wailing and gnashing of teeth!), you will understand why Donna Hunter is upset. Till then, sod off.”
The superintendent of the school sees no problem – what else is new with believers? “Superintendent Keohane said he believes Morinville students and parents find value in the education and religious studies being offered in Morinville schools.” I find it amazing that it is us secular people that understand how things like this will affect others, but believers are completely blind to understanding how these kinds of things affect other people. Is there a developmental problem which screws up the wiring enabling empathy? I just don’t get it. Even if Keohane’s statement that the Catholic fraction of the local population (46%) is higher than the mean for the province (26%), does this warrant ALL of the schools in Morinville be Catholic? Catholic math is very different from the kind I learned in school.
Later, in mid-January, the school board refused outright to provide a secular education alternative. Instead, the onus was placed on those seeking a non-faith-based education for their children. Options given to such parents are to form a separate school (which would require action by the province), to bus their kids to another school district (the nearest of which is a 40 min trip!), or to use the Alberta Human Rights Act in order to remove their children from religious classes but remain in the Catholic system.
The problem with the last one is that the parents would have to opt-out their children from pretty much every class. One look at the Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools’ website would tell anyone that:
Through faith-based encounters with learning [emphasis mine], our students come to understand a journey of life which extends from knowing the Christ within, to acting as Christ for others. The Sacred Congregation on Catholic education reminds us that the vocation of our schools “includes the work of ongoing social development: to form men and women who will be ready to take their place in society, preparing them in such a way that they make the kind of social commitment which will enable them to work for improvement of social structures, making these structures more conformed to the principles of the Gospel. The Catholic educator, in other words, must be committed to the task of forming men and women who will make the “civilization of love” a reality.
It’s even worse when one considers the information package sent to parents of prospective students which contains the following warning:
“Every course of study and educational program, all instructional materials, instruction and exercises will at all times include subject matter that deals primarily and explicitly with religion.”
So, where is the Alberta government in all this, whose responsibility it is to ensure a secular education free of religious indoctrination, or so I would think? This headline says it all:
Alta. won’t intervene in Morinville school dispute. “I [Dave Hancock, Minister of Education] think that needs to be a real discussion with the people involved,” he said. “It’s not really in my hand to mandate that.”
What. The. Hell! If not his, then who’s mandate is it to set things right? What a gutless wonder.
But the pressure is on. According to CBC News on March 25, there will be a survey to measure support for a secular alternative in Morinville. Hancock wrote,
“What is at issue here is not whether you and your children, and the other parents in Morinville whom you represent, have a right to secular education. What is at issue is how this education should be provided.”
I fail to see any solution other than creating a secular public school that would satisfy the right to parents in Morinville to have their children educated in a secular shool (his support of which is only implied, not clearly stated).
Some events have happened since that I will write on soon.