Last week the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) brought a court application challenging the constitutionality of changes to the School Act which are intended to support the establishment of gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in Alberta schools.
Just to get our bearings, the JCCF is a non-profit legal organization run by John Carpay. Mr Carpay is a lawyer and a former director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation for Alberta, a former candidate for the federal Reform Party and the Alberta Wildrose Party.
The Application was filed by eight parents, 26 schools and two non-profit organizations that promote choice and fundamental Christian education.
The Applicants argue the government violated their Charter rights and freedoms when it introduced legislation requiring schools to support students who want to set up a GSA (this includes allowing students to call the club a “gay-straight alliance” or a “queer-straight alliance” and implementing codes of conduct to support GSAs). Schools are free to tell parents a GSA has been created but are not free to “out” kids that join one.
The Constitutional Argument
It’s difficult to follow the constitutional argument because the Application is tinged with hysteria.
It starts with the premise that kids are sexually and emotionally exploited by adults and their peers “most often in places and during times when parents are absent and unaware” so the lack of “parental knowledge” that kids have joined a GSA “opens the door to predation”.
The Application says parents are alarmed and frightened by the climate of secrecy that the School Act has created around ideological sexual clubs and related activities. It cranks up the Alarm-O-Meter by providing a list of sexual practices it defines as “GSA materials”–the list is no doubt intended to shock God-fearing folk but is irrelevant because it is not part of the guide to GSAs produced by the Alberta Government or Alberta Teachers Association. (For the record the official GSA materials include suggested activities like volunteering at a soup kitchen, baking rainbow cakes, and inviting your parents to attend a GSA meeting if you’re so inclined).
The Application asserts that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms “constitutionalizes” (whatever that means) parents’ rights to protect, support and educate their children and a child’s right to be protected and supported, but fails to explain how the Charter, which makes no mention of parental or children’s rights, can be stretched to support this allegation.
It argues the requirement that schools allow kids to form GSAs infringes their parents’ freedom of religion, freedom of belief, and freedom of association, but doesn’t explain why a GSA would infringe such fundamental freedoms while a government mandated curriculum requirement to teach evolution does not. (Did they stop teaching the Biblical version of creation?)
The Applicants argue they should have the right to opt their kids out of GSAs without acknowledging that the right to opt-out applies only to mandatory instruction if the focus is on human sexuality and religion, not voluntary participation in a club. (Hint: if you get credits for it, it’s a mandatory course and you can opt-out; if you don’t get credits, it’s a club, there’s no opt-out because you’re not forced to opt-in).
The real issue is this. The Applicants adhere to a set of “foundational beliefs” which they describe as follows:
- People are created as male and female and God intends them to “accept their gender”
- Individuals cannot “truly or actually” change their gender or sex
- Marriage is the union of one man and one woman, for life, to the exclusion of all others, and so instituted by God
- Sexual relations are intended only for within marriage
- Departure from these “principles of God’s expressed will is morally wrong”
We understand that schools that cling to such foundational beliefs are thrown into crisis when their students ask for a GSA which, by definition, may not align with such beliefs and prove that all efforts to inculcate such beliefs in some students have failed.
However, society has moved beyond these beliefs, as evidenced by our legal right to be free from discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender expression.
Rather than bash each other with arguments about clashing belief systems, let’s ask the Applicants a simple question: If they truly believe their children have a constitutional right to be protected and supported shouldn’t they focus less on outing the kids who want to join a GSA and more on supporting them if they do.
It’s time for the Applicants to show some compassion.