On March 19, over 2,000 people joined the protest in front of the Alberta legislature in Edmonton regarding the Progressive Conservative government’s proposed Alberta Education Act (Bill 2), which is now shelved due to the election. Albertans, including homeschooling families and Christians, were concerned about the provision in Section 16 of the bill requiring all instructional materials in schools, including private and home schools, to “reflect the diverse nature and heritage of society in Alberta, promote understanding and respect for others and honour and respect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Alberta Human Rights Act.”
Paul D. Faris, president and legal counsel of the Home School Legal Defence Association told The Interim that the real concern was the inclusion of the Alberta Human Rights Act in the bill. It “forces parents and teachers to conform with … the newest politically correct flavour of the day coming out of the Human Rights Act,” he said. In this way, the government is “trying to control the individual private conversation of families” and “the values taught by private schools.”
The controversy escalated when Donna McColl, the assistant director of communications to Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk, told LifeSiteNews on Feb. 23 that homeschooling families could not teach that homosexual acts are sinful as part of class. “Whatever the nature of schooling – homeschool, private school, Catholic school – we do not tolerate disrespect for differences,” she said. “You can affirm the family’s ideology in your family life, you just can’t do it as part of your educational study and instruction.”
After a huge outcry, Lukaszuk sent a letter to LifeSiteNews on February 24 denying this interpretation: “Home schooling families in Alberta need not be concerned that the provincial government intends to compromise their religious freedoms.” On March 1, Lukaszuk’s director of communications, Janice Schroeder, also assured LifeSiteNews that parents could indeed teach their stance on homosexuality. Yet, homeschooling advocates are sceptical owing to the Alberta Human Rights Tribunals’ consistent record in undermining religious freedom of expression.
Patty Marler, government liaison for the Alberta Home Education Association, questioned how a line could be drawn between school time and family time. “We educate our children all the time, and that’s just the way we live,” she said, explaining, “It’s a lifestyle. Making that distinction between the times when we’re homeschooling and when we’re just living is really hard to do.”
Parents had thought that by homeschooling their children, they could get out of the reach of the long arm of the law that promotes an official government ideology. They thought that they could escape from measures such as Ontario’s pro-gay curriculum, Québec’s moral relativism class, and Burnaby, B.C.’s “Sexual Orientation/Gender Identity” policy. The Alberta Education Act proves that this is not the case.
An example of what state restriction of homeschooling looks like is provided by Sweden. Before June 2010, homeschooling was acknowledged by the law to be a “fully satisfactory alternative” to public education although government officials were required to inspect homeschooling families. In June 2010, though, a new law was passed banning homeschooling in all but “extraordinary circumstances.” It expressly stated that “there is no need of a law to make space for homeschooling based on the religious or philosophical views of the family.”
But life for homeschoolers was not easy even before 2010. In June 2009, Christer and Annie Johansson boarded a plane with their 7-year-old homeschooled son, Dominic, to move to India. A minute before take-off, though, the parents were arrested and Dominic was taken by social services. The rationale was that Dominic was missing some vaccines (which was not illegal in Sweden) and that he had a few untreated cavities in his baby teeth (his parents said they were planning to take him to see a dentist in India). The Johanssons had tried to follow the law in homeschooling their child in requesting study materials from the principal of the local school. The principal refused, had the school board fine them, and contacted social services. After Dominic’s abduction at the hands of the state, his family was only allowed to visit him for one hour every five weeks. In 2011, the Johanssons were threatened with the complete loss of parental rights.
In Germany, on the other hand, homeschooling had been illegal since the Hitler regime, and lately, authorities have stepped up persecution of homeschooling families. In June 2008, Juergen and Rosemarie Dudek were sentenced to three months in jail for homeschooling their seven kids. Before this, the authorities were content to simply fine them for their activities. In 2010, an American judge granted political asylum to the Romeike family. The Romeikes fled Germany in February 2008 because they faced persecution owing to their decision to educate their children at home.
Canada has not yet stooped to the level of Sweden and Germany, but restricting freedom of conscience and education is a slippery slope and some provinces are already well on their way to achieving the ‘progressive’ European model.
There is another lesson in all this: families who think that what goes on in the state-run education system because they homeschool or send their children to independent schools, are not safe from the government imposing its radical agenda upon them.