Vancouver’s Roman Catholic Archbishop submitted this letter to the Vancouver Sun, in response to the B.C. Supreme Court’s overturning of the Surrey School Board’s ban on primary-level books treating same-sex parenting as normal.

When you meet a parent walking down the street holding a child by the hand and you ask that parent, “Whose child is that?” the parent will say, “That child belongs to me.” The central issue in the controversy over the Surrey School Board’s ban on children’s books with homosexual content is precisely that: Whose child is this?

A judge, apparently interpreting the terse words of the School Act, claims that this ban is not legal because it is based on religious belief and that this runs contrary to the School Act, which stipulates that schools must be run on a secular, non-religious basis.

I am deeply disturbed by the news of this ruling. I believe the court’s judgment reflects unhealthy fear and paranoia about the role of religion in public life. It embodies a rigid secularism that is intolerant of certain moral views simply because those views are supported by religious traditions. But in all the discussion over public education, the central question remains: Whose child is it?

If you ask the parent above, “Doesn’t this child belong to Canada, to the province of British Columbia? Is this child not a citizen?” the parent will answer, “Yes, my child is a citizen of this country and of this province, but first and foremost, that child belongs to me. Consequently, I as a parent have the primary right and duty to educate my child, and it is wrong for public officials to decide arbitrarily what moral values my child is to learn.”

Schools exist precisely to help parents raise children. In a certain sense, schools are an auxiliary to parents. Pope John Paul II has said, “Those in society who are in charge of schools must never forget that the parents have been appointed by God Himself as the first and principal educators of their children and their right is inalienable.” I agree with these words, not just because of who the speaker is, but because they express a fundamental and universal principle of truth and justice.

If the educational right of parents is not protected, what it really boils down to is this: The child is considered as belonging first and foremost to the state and the state decides what the child is to learn. But this is an inversion of the correct order and, as such, cannot be tolerated.

To assume that the child belongs first and foremost to the state and that the state therefore has the first right and duty to decide how the child will be educated is, in fact, totalitarianism. From history, we know what the consequences of totalitarianism are. We should not tolerate totalitarianism in our day and age, in our country, our province, or anywhere else.

A child is entrusted to his or her parents. Every child attending public school has a right to an education based on respect for the primacy of the parents’ role. Parents have a right to expect public schools to protect their values. School boards have a right to render this protection. The school, and ultimately the state, have the duty not to undermine the legitimate authority and responsibility of parents.

Undermining the rights of parents will only result in the exploitation of children. When it comes to children, the state does not know best.

Once again I ask, “Whose child is it?”