It has recently come to light that the Alberta government is giving $ 7 million to a private school which is openly anti-gay. Where can homophobia do more harm than in schools which have great influence over the shaping of young minds? Since governments are bound by law not to discriminate against gays, what’s going on here?
Through our governments, we the public fund education in order to ensure that young people are prepared to live productive lives as fully-developed individuals and as citizens ready and willing to engage in our complex and diverse society. That last bit about diverse society is important. Alberta’s School Act in fact requires that “All education programs offered and instruction materials used in schools must reflect the diverse nature and heritage of society in Alberta, promote understanding and respect for others and honour and respect the common values and beliefs of Albertans.”
Those common values and beliefs are clarified in many places, for example, in Alberta’s Human Rights Act which makes it illegal for schools to discriminate on many grounds, including sexual orientation. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms prohibits governments from taking any action which denies Canadians, including gays, the equal benefit and protection of the law. And the International Declaration of Human Rights (see Article 26) commits governments to provide education aimed at “the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups …”
So it’s directly counter to education policy as stated in the School Act, as well as illegal – even unconstitutional – and contrary to international law, for the provincial government to give any money at all to schools such as the Prairie Christian Academy, the operating philosophy of which is nasty indeed. According to its web site, the school prohibits teachers from same-sex marriage and requires them to “abstain from homosexual relations.” The school’s Statement of Faith – which according to a piece in the Calgary Herald must be signed by students in grades 7 through 12 – says that people who fail to follow the religious strictures of this particular faith will go to hell to suffer the “everlasting punishment of conscious torment in the lake of fire.”
Seriously, folks, your tax money is going to support the idea that gays – and everyone else who does not toe this particular, very narrow, religious line – will burn forever in a “lake of fire.”
How can children taught in such an intolerant environment be expected to grow into adults able to respect and work together well with people who are different from themselves? What in the world is our tax money doing in the hands of the people who run such an institution?
Public funding of private schools is wrong across the board, in my view, but we don’t have to go that far to conclude that the Prairie Christian Academy should not receive public funds. We have simply to agree that schools which operate according to rules which violate both provincial education policy and laws designed to protect human dignity and promote acceptance should under no circumstances ever receive public funds.
For reasons which sadden me, some families choose to send their children to schools such as the Prairie Christian Academy. So be it. But public money should not be spent to encourage that option. Parents who send their children to schools which discriminate contrary to democratic principle and applicable law should have to pay the full cost of making those unfortunate choices.
Janet Keeping is a lawyer and leader of the Green Party of Alberta.
This opinion piece appeared first, in a slightly different form, on the Troy Media web site: http://www.troymedia.com/2014/04/15/alberta-should-not-be-funding-anti-gay-schools/