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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.

The parents of children demanding (as they should) a secular education for their children have a website and a Facebook page (link)

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3 Comments

  1. Two quibbles about this post.

    The first is understanding that funds diverted from the public school system into the catholic are a net loss to the public school system as a whole… in addition to the shortfall then subsidized by the public. This is a travesty. Here in Ontario where I hang about during the last provincial election the Conservative leader (Tory… what were the chances the guy would ever be politically anything but?) proposed more public funding to faith schools and overnight his party went from leading in the polls to handing a majority to the Liberals. There’s a lesson there for every Canadian politician.

    The second quibble has to do with Manitoba’s Schools Act. You suggest the provincial government simply decided to get rid funding the catholic school system but if I recall my history lessons, it was passed with the very strong support of the Orange Order (very powerful in Manitoba especially) in direct response and as a challenge to the Jesuit’s Estates Act, as if to show the papacy that it held no sway outside of Quebec as far as the rest of Canada was concerned.

    BTW, have you ever been to the Manitoba legislature? It reflects the power of the Orangemen and their masonic ties. A spectacular building and a Star chamber designed at the bottom of a stairwell so that the singing of one tone will produce the overtones throughout the stairwell. Very cool. It’s also the masonic center of North America (geographically speaking). Anyway, lots of rich history where many might not suspect.

    Loved your post. It’s shocking that in the minds of many catholics there is no discrepancy having two ‘public’ school systems. Just shows how easy faith pollutes good reasoning.

  2. Thanks for stopping by, tildeb. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

    The Ontario government may be thinking about funding faith-based schools, but here there are fundamentalist schools being publicly funded 60-100% publicly. There’s one in Cochrane (an export from Texas in fact), just outside of Calgary. Heck, you take one step outside the city limits of Calgary or Edmonton and you’re in Arkansas North. Seriously.

    I used to live a mere two blocks from the legislature in Winterpeg. I know the situation was more complex than what was discussed here, but then the Manitoba Question was over 100 years ago and I didn’t feel it was all that relevant to the discussion. I just found Pope Leo the upteenth’s whining in the encyclical amusing. Even now the Catholic school system in Manitoba is de facto publicly funded. We really need an explicit separation of church and state in the constitution. Thanks for the info on the conflict in the Manitoba Question. I hadn’t come across that.

    There was one comment on the CBC coverage of this story that claimed that Catholic schools have a great cultural diversity. I suppose that’s true. There are Irish Catholics, German Catholics, French Catholics…. Diversity my ass. Have they got any Sunnis? I don’t think so.

    Another comment was more to the point of your last paragraph. This commenter claimed that even though he was Catholic that his schooling in that system didn’t do him any harm. I begged to differ. In making such an asinine comment he demonstrated that it did a LOT of harm.

    Why are the religious so frightened of a single secular education system? A couple of weeks ago Justin Trottier (head of CFI Canada) was in town and as I was driving him around we had a pretty good discussion of this and other topics. Secularism gives everyone a level playing field. The supporters of Catholic school systems (Bishop Fred Fucking Henry comes to mind) do not want to give up that kind of power in the interests of fairness and individual freedoms. I think there is also this false equivalence made between atheism and secularism. It’s simply unfounded.

    I know in Ontario Catholic schools GSA groups have been banned. It hasn’t happened here yet (it’s a bit more conservative and Conservative around here, and I live in Harper’s riding…) but it is inevitable. “I think being gay is wrong because I’m Catholic” ain’t gonna fly anymore. It’s a non-reason. Time to get them to think for themselves.

    But I don’t agree that faith pollutes good reasoning. To me, faith is the total absense of reasoning period.

    When I have enough new info I’ll post another entry on this story. I follow it quite closely.

  3. If Newfoundland can get rid of the catholic system so effectively, there is no reason except the lack of political will to do so in every province.

    I know what you’re talking about in Alberta: I lived there for several years and thought it was far too influenced by US style religion and susceptible to polarizing moral values in the public domain. I continue to be amazed that so many religious folk seem obtuse recognize that respecting the secular is necessary for their own religious freedom.

    The Ontario government’s Minister of Education insisted that the ‘law’ would be upheld about allowing GSAs in catholic schools. I haven’t seen anything done about enforcing exactly that since the catholic school boards refused to obey the law. Cowards one and all. And you’re right: this is just the tip of the iceberg how religion influences so many issues in the public domain. We do what we can.


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