Education Minister David Eggen is threatening private (primarily Christian) schools with defunding and accreditation loss if they do not remove many of their core religious beliefs from their Safe and Caring policies. This is being done because, in Eggen’s view, these policies do not foster a “welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment.”What are some of these beliefs you might ask? Well, here’s a list of a few that the Alberta government has pointed out:
- Stating that the school’s academic instruction is based on “unchangeable and infallible word of God.”
- “God created mankind as male and female, equal in dignity and worth, yet distinct and with complementary roles.”
- “The school’s teachers and staff need not teach ethics or religious doctrines that are contrary to the school community’s faith/value commitments in a way that portrays them as equally credible or worthy of belief.”
- “… the above doctrines will be taught as truth in our school.”
This is a clear violation of Charter rights found in section 2. (a)&(b) “Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression.” John Carpay, a lawyer and president of the Justice Centre For Constitutional Freedoms, explained that:
“In the name of ‘diversity’ David Eggen is attacking the constitutional right to have thoughts, opinions and beliefs different than his own. . . This is a naked and aggressive attack against the Charter rights and freedoms of every citizen, and designed to intimidate schools which are now asserting their Charter rights in court. These bullying tactics are what you would expect in a repressive third-world dictatorship, not in a functioning democracy that respects the rule of law.”
What's behind this move?
From the NDP’s perspective, this could very well be motivated out of a genuine concern that these schools are not doing enough to make any of their LGBTQ students feel safe and cared for. However, it would be hard to see where this view comes from given that the schools in question often do a much better job at making sure their students felt safe and cared for than the average Alberta school. Former Alberta school teacher and principal Ed Hoogerdyk clearly outlined this in his recent piece for the Lethbridge Herald saying:
“The parental engagement effect is working so well in the schools threatened by Mr. Eggen that they have consistently maintained an exemplary record of supporting students and providing a safe, caring, respectful and welcoming environment. Their three-year average on the Safe and Caring Accountability Pillar results is well above the provincial average. Surveys completed by parents and students typically reveal a 95-100 percent satisfaction rating and an overall rating of excellent! Why the impressive results? Because these schools are accountable to parents for this important and crucial aspect of operating a school. Because these schools make it their goal to protect all students in a way that is sensitive to their cultural and religious identity. A government intent on excellent educational outcomes would not think of threatening such schools with loss of funding or accreditation.”
Why is the NDP doing this?
So what shall we make of the NDP’s attempt to squash religious freedoms in the name of diversity? For all accounts and purpose, this appears to be nothing more than crass politics. Based on current polling numbers, it looks as if the days of this NDP government will be numbered. Their record on the economy and government spending has been dismal, and ther trust in the Trudeau government to properly build a pipeline career ending. With a popular UCP party looking to take them to task on their fiscal record come the spring 2019 election, it appears the NDP are turning towards the social side of politics to create some division amongst their UCP opponents and turn Albertans' attention away from traditional pocketbook issues.
What will this result in?
If the NDP would like to continue governing past the next election, or at least exit with some semblance of grace, they should do the right thing and retract these threats. These schools have all clearly demonstrated an ability to create an environment where students are safe and cared for. There is no need for more government inference here. This attempt by the NDP government to manufacture controversy for electoral gain whilst trampling on charter rights is particularly pathetic and disgusting. These fundamental rights of freedom of religion, freedom of expression and freedom of thought and belief form the bedrock of the Charter and what it means to be a Canadian. These are not small little details to be trifled with. Albertans are well aware of this. If Minister Eggen does not reverse course on this issue, he and his party could be learning this the hard way very soon.
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