The long court case in defense of parental rights by a Hamilton father against the Hamilton-Wentworth Disrtict School Board (HWDSB) is finally, after over three years, closer to reaching a verdict. Both sides will soon have presented their statement of facts which includes the legal argument submitted to the court and the justice sought.

The father and applicant defending his parental rights is Steve Tourloukis. The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board is the defendant. The statement of facts for Tourloukis was submitted on Feb. 1, 2016 to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice by his lawyer Alberto Polizogopoulos.

Readers may recall that when Ontario’s radical sex curriculum was brought back in early 2015 both Premier Kathleen Wynne and Minister Liz Sandals told parents that they could withdraw their children from any topic that contradicted their beliefs. But school boards have been reluctant to allow parents to exercise this right to pull their children out when they oppose for good reason what is being taught. Tourloukis’ long court case is proof that when it comes to “inclusive education” the government has no intention of letting school boards respect parental rights. The outcome of the case will be important in helping to determine who has the final say when it comes to what children learn in school: is it the province or the parents? Historically it’s always been the parents. But the government and the school boards are now pushing for the “right” to violate parental rights and thus have the final authority on school curriculum and policies.

The long 57-page argument often gets legalistic and won’t be read by most parents, but the main issues in the case are found in the lawyer’s concluding paragraphs:

  • The Applicant (Tourloukis) sincerely believes that as a Greek Orthodox Christian, he is required to raise his children according to Biblical principles and that he is required to shield them from false teachings. Such false teachings include, but are not limited to discussions or portrayals of marriage and sexuality which are contrary to the Biblical views of them.
  • The Applicant (Tourloukis) has requested that he be advised of what and when his children will be taught or exposed to on certain specific subjects. He also requested that if he found it necessary, that he withdraw his children from such classes, lessons or activities. The HWDSB has refused to comply.

This is a reasonable parental request. However, HWDSB has so far made the case that Tourloukis isn’t required by his faith to protect his children from ideas that contradict his beliefs. You may want to read that last sentence again. The board is telling the parent how to parent, what to think and believe. The board and the school argue that Tourloukis is free to choose other schools that respect his religious beliefs. What happened to the democratic idea that public schools are for all children? But if you happen to be Christian, it’s no longer true. Furthermore, the board claims that there’s no need to make any religious accommodation in this case. Why? Because the board argues that in granting Tourloukis advance notice of what is to be taught in the classroom would discriminate against other children.

Lastly, should Tourloukis’ children be withdrawn from lessons that oppose his faith, then his children would talk to other children about their beliefs to explain why they weren’t in class, and this too would result in discrimination. And yet it’s just fine to discriminate against Tourloukis and bully him. There’s a grave injustice here. There is something terribly wrong with what the board’s legal team is trying to establish as a precedent, and this is why it’s so important that Tourloukis win the case for parental rights and religious freedom across the province. His victory will be a victory for all parents in Canada.

Ontario parents should be very concerned about the line of argument used by the school board because it suggests a very disturbing trend to disrespect parental rights and religious beliefs. The HWDSB knows very well the dictatorial position they are taking in spite of the fact that parents have rights and so do children. Here’s what parents need to be aware of: 1. Under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms the board should respect Dr. Tourloukis’ religious beliefs; 2. The Ontario Human Rights Code permits religious accommodation; 3. The school board’s own policies call for the respect and the accommodation of religious beliefs; 4. The school board’s position that to allow Tourloukis to withdraw his children from class topics that contradict his faith would discriminate against other students is a view based on neither facts nor experience; 5. Other parents have already received similar religious accommodation and so in fairness, equality and justice so too should Tourloukis. The real discrimination is against Tourloukis and his children.

It’s parents that should have the final say about the content of what their children are taught and the activities they participate in while at school. For the school board to argue that children cannot be removed from class lessons that conflict with the parent’s religious, moral and conscience beliefs is a complete violation of the Education Act, the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Touloukis’ court case makes it very clear: if parents want to have parental rights in this province, they have to defend and fight for them.

 Lou Iacobelli, a former educator, is chair of the Parental Rights in Education Defense Fund, a non-profit organization that is assisting Steve Tourloukis in his legal fight.

This article originally appeared Feb. 3 on Iacobelli’s blog Everyday for Life Canada, and is used with permission.