Catholic school funding questioned in aftermath

After facing months of protests by pro-family and religious groups, the McGuinty government rammed Bill 13, the so-called Accepting Schools Act, through committee for a final vote on June 5. Bill 13 passed 65-36.

Although the Accepting Schools Act was presented as a broad-based anti-bullying initiative, its focus is on promoting homosexual rights in schools, including the province’s publicly funded Catholic school system. Most of the battle seemed to be about gay-straight alliances which are student-led clubs in which homosexual students can supposedly feel safe, but which American homosexualist groups have admitted, is a forum to promote homosexuality.

Dan Di Rocco, a former high school principal, testified before the Standing Committee on Social Policy on May 14, that studies show most bullying victims are bullied not because of sexual orientation but body shape and size.

Yet, supporters of Bill 13 always made mention of making schools welcoming for students who identify as homosexual. Education Minister Laurel Broten said, “This is about having schools where our students, if they draw a picture of their family and it has two moms in it or it has two dads, that they know that other pupils in that classroom understand and know that’s just as loving a family as theirs.”

Jack Fonseca of Campaign Life Catholics said Bill 13 pushes a sexual agenda by promoting the “disputed six-gender theory” which states that gender is not necessarily connected to anatomy and that in addition to male and female there are also lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, two-spirited, intersexed, and queer genders. He said this redefinition of gender is in both the preamble to Bill 13 and in the guiding documents in the Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy which will be codified in law as part of the bill.

He also warned that there would be a danger of “classroom indoctrination” as course material, books, and curriculum will “aim to normalize homosexual ‘marriage’ and the gay lifestyle.”

In the weeks leading up to the passing of Bill 13 there were a number of protests against the government’s bill. In May, Lynn Jackson’s Network of Families’ Concern organized a number of small protests outside the Eaton Centre at the busy intersection of Yonge and Dundas streets in downtown Toronto. Jackson told The Interim that they were “informing the public about McGuinty’s plans for our schools” and said that the reception was “quite positive among those who stop and listen.” She said most passers-by could not believe the government’s anti-bullying initiative seemed to be more about a sexual agenda than making students safe.

On May 31, at least 500 parents and religious activists rallied at Dundas Square before meeting up with another group opposed to Bill at Queen’s Park. At Dundas Square demonstrators put tape across their mouths to signify that pro-family and religious parents were being oppressed by the McGuinty government. They also distributed pamphlets to passers-by. Phil Lees, leader of the Family Coalition Party, said the protest is “a reminder to the legislators in the pink palace down the street that we will not allow the rights of responsible, traditional, principled Ontarians to be taken away.”

LifeSiteNews.com reported after Bill 13 passed that Cecilia Forsyth, president of Real Women of Canada, said her organization sees the legislation “as a serious infringement of religious freedom and as a denial of conscience rights to Catholic schools.”

Although the Accepting Schools Act says it applies only to all publicly funded schools, Barbara Hall, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, has suggested the bill could be applied to private schools. In her May 15 submission in support of the bill, Hall claimed that Ontario’s human rights code is the province’s “highest law,” and argued that “all schools-including public, Catholic and private-have a legal duty to provide students with an educational environment free from harassment and other forms of discrimination.”

On June 4, the government announced that an amendment to Bill 13 would require schools have Gay-Straight Alliances if students asked for them, and they had to use that name if the student-led club requested it.

In a statement Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto suggested the amendment “overrides the deeply held beliefs” of the Church and “intrudes on its freedom to act in a way that is in accord with its principles of conscience.” He said Bill 13 relegated freedom of religion to “a second class right.”

In the aftermath of religious opposition – opposition that was not limited to Catholic parents and organizations – the media discussion turned to defunding Catholic education. Groups such as the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada, and the Institute for Canadian Values, all criticized the government’s push for gay rights under the guise of anti-bullying, for various reasons including the threat to parental and religious rights. Yet, there was still a push in some circles to tie opposition to the Accepting Schools Act to Catholic funding. A Forum Research Poll indicated 48 opposed continued funding of separate schools, whereas 43 per cent supported maintaining Ontario’s Catholic system. Schreiner said, “we need to merge the best of the Catholic and public system into one publicly funded education system, French and English.” The One School System Network said that there would be savings for the cash-strapped province if they merged the schools. On talk radio, opponents of taxpayer-funded religious education argued that if schools accept public money, they had to buckle to all state regulations.

Marino Gazzola, president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustee’s Association, replied that 2.3 million Catholic ratepayers support the separate school system that educates more than 600,000 students province-wide. He said that non-Catholic enrolment in separate schools is rising and that many parents send their children to Catholic schools not for the religion lessons, but the values the institutions teach.

The Catholic bishops were notably absent in fighting against the bill. The Toronto Star reported that the bishops were unwilling to expend any political capital opposing the bill. Pro-family and religious groups called upon the bishops and school boards to invoke Section 93 of the Constitution Act, 1867. Campaign Life Coalition issued a press release encouraging “Cardinal Collins and the Catholic School Boards to invoke Section 93 of the Constitution Act which permits them to reject any legislation which impacts adversely upon the content of faith and morals. That constitutional right is unshakeable.” CLC national president Jim Hughes said, “Thousands of people of all faiths will rally in their support.”

FCP leader Phil Lees told LifeSiteNews that the Catholic Church’s acceptance of Bill 13 makes it “more challenging” for other faith groups to become motivated to fight for the protection of religious liberties.

Ontario’s Catholic bishops have indicated they have no immediate plan to challenge the legislation.

In a statement on behalf of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario following the passage of Bill 13, Archbishop of Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins, said simply: “Recognizing that the Accepting Schools Act is now the law, Catholic partners will seek, as we have always done, in a way that is in accord with our faith, to foster safe and welcoming school communities.” Collins observed that the bishops have expressed unspecified “serious concerns regarding certain aspects of this legislation,” but gave no indication of any further plans to oppose its provisions.

Mary Ellen Douglas, president of Campaign Life Coalition Ontario, said the morning Bill 13 passed, “the battle begins.” Douglas said she hopes “the bishops of Ontario realize what the implications are of this vote and for Catholics schools and will stand firmly with their people behind them.”

Douglas warned that Bill 13 will set the agenda for the country. “Believe me, this will be coming to all of the provinces now.”

– with files from Peter Baklinski and Patrick C. Craine of LifeSiteNews.com