A Protestant group here is poised to take legal action against the public school board and the city for alleged religious discrimination, and has already approached the Alberta Human Rights Commission, says group spokesman Reverend Edward Crawford.
Right to taxes
At issue is the right of Protestants to direct tax support to their own school system, or alternatively, to establish Protestant schools under the jurisdiction of an existing public system, Crawford explained.
Protestants want their own schools because the public system teaches a philosophy incompatible with Christian beliefs, contended the pastor of Edmonton’s Bible Presbyterian Church.
“Their philosophy is based on supremacy of self, and that’s quite the opposite of the supremacy of God.” But in trying to establish such schools, Protestants have been consistently stonewalled by a system they say doesn’t recognize them, he told The Interim.
In Alberta, a ratepayer or resident can designate tax support to either the Catholic or the public school system. As is the case with the City of Edmonton, the classification is either Catholic, or non-Catholic, Mr. Crawford said.
But “the word ‘Protestant’ is not synonymous with non-Catholic,” he emphasized.
According to Mr. Crawford, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 1926 that the term Protestant “excludes all but professing Christians, and among them it includes all those who adhere to what are generally accepted as the principles and doctrines of the Reformation of the 16th century.”
Therefore, he stated, a Protestant can be clearly defined as one who believes in the Scriptures as the inspired word of God, accepts justification by faith alone in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and accepts the doctrines of the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, the bodily resurrection of Jesus and His Second Coming.
Fighting for rights
Mr. Crawford founded the Protestant School Society in 1981 to fight for the right of Protestants to recognition as a minority group, and more importantly, their right to publicly funded education.
This right is provided for in the British North America Act, the 1901 Northwest Territories School Ordinance Act and the 1905 Alberta Act, statutes which according to Mr. Crawford, set out very clearly that “nothing shall in any wise prejudicially effect the right to religious instruction which any class of persons has at time of union.”
The society initially sought to establish a school in Edmonton within the public system in 1982.
But Edmonton Public Schools turned down the request, citing that it didn’t want religious alternatives among its programs, he said.
When the provincial Department of Education informed the Society that this reason was “invalid,” it gamely re-applied in 1989, only to be turned down once again for precisely the same reason.
The board’s rationale is “nothing more than a sham,” in Mr. Crawford’s view. He pointed out that the public board already runs a religious program in the Talmud Torah school, which it refers to as a “cultural linguistic program.”
The society has written the board and given them 30 days to reverse the decision, or supply legitimate reasons, or be sued, he said.
“We think it should get very interesting. They have tried to pull the wool over people’s eyes.”
Protestant separate system
The society’s ‘Plan B’ is to establish a publicly funded Protestant separate school system, similar to Catholic systems in existence in Alberta.
But because Protestants as a clearly defined minority don’t exist they can’t be enumerated as Protestant residents and rate-payers, and this is what prompted a complaint to the Human Rights Commission against the city for religious discrimination.
The Protestant School Society also has a Calgary branch, where the situation is much the same according to spokesman Gord Smith, chaplain at the Calgary International Airport.
“It’s time to stand up and say that the public school system is not a Protestant system. The public school system does not adhere to and teach the Bible,” he commented.
And it’s a “staggering realization that Protestants are in a minority group,” he noted, citing the statistic that only 10 per cent of Alberta’s nominal Christians actually attend church.
“As Christians, as Protestants, we have been in the majority for so long that we had no rights. Now we’re in a minority. It’s a whole new ball game.”
Mr. Smith also feels the public education system no longer teaches “a body of knowledge” but a philosophy. Protestant children are being “indoctrinated into a new way of thinking,” one which he describes as “humanistic” and permeated with New Age ideas.
This same perception has led to the exodus of approximately 5,000 students from the public schools to the home, said Dave Stasiewich, president of the Alberta Home Education Association.
“People are pulling out because there is too much occult and mysticism in the public schools,” he said, adding “There’s no Christianity taught.”
Mr. Stasiewch has documented cases of séances, palm reading, channeling adventures, spiritualistic dancing, yoga and other practices taking place in public schools.
The sex education programs are also of grave concern to parents. He noted that about 80 to 90 per cent of those Protestants now home schooling their children would gladly support a Protestant school system.
Mr. Crawford estimated that there are at least 30,000 households in Edmonton alone which would designate their tax dollars in support of a Protestant school system.
“It’s a major undertaking and we’ll be running into all kinds of opposition,” admitted Mr. Smith, but “it’s time the Protestants stood up and said “we have rights too.”