It's back to school season in Ontario. This means that around the province, thousands and thousands of students are walking into schools that openly make a mockery of our diversity and equality.
For no other reason than because it's always been this way, our tax dollars -- your tax dollars -- are paying for Catholic children to receive a Catholic education. I don't have an issue with Catholicism, or Catholics receiving a Catholic education. Nor do I think the province can just stop funding Catholic school boards, even though that would only put them on the same footing as every other religious school in the province.
But we don't live in a theocracy; ours is a nation of law where Canon Law takes a back seat to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Which brings us to our current, and seemingly never-ending, problem: the Catholic school boards and that gay thing.
This wouldn't be an issue, if, like every other religious school in the province, the Catholic schools were privately funded. I grew up attending Jewish day schools. I sat through rabbinics classes and listened to rabbis tell me why my lifestyle was unnatural and wrong, notwithstanding the laws and values of the country they were teaching in.
Catholic school boards have been developing a history of acting in a manner that contradicts the values of equality enshrined in the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Charter. The Halton District Catholic School Board banned gay-straight alliances last year, putting them on par with "Nazi groups". They now urge their teachers to lead "the homosexual student" toward "better sexual morality." So much for section 15 of the Charter: the right to equality.
More recently, in response to the province's requirement for anti-bullying policies, which include a reference to homosexuality, Toronto District Catholic School Board (TDCSB) Trustee John Del Grande told the Globe and Mail, "The government seems to be pushing some things and some concepts that may not necessarily be congruent with what we [as Catholics] think."
Well John, the Catholic school board seems to be pushing some things and some concepts that may not necessarily be congruent with what we as Ontarians think. And as long as we're the ones footing the bill for your little 'God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve' sideshow, when we, Ontario, give you anti-bullying guidelines that include homosexuality, there is no debate.
Instead, however, proving further disregard and disrespect for their source of funding, the TDCSB's new policy says in the event of a conflict between Catholic teachings and the rights enshrined by Canadian and Ontario laws, courts will decide, "on a case-by-case basis," whose teachings take precedence.
Excuse me? Can I have my tax dollars back please?
It is not my intention to attack Catholic beliefs or the theological teachings of the Pope. Nor do I wish to question the credibility of the Catholic Church, as an institution, to preach on issues related to sexual morality. Like all other religions, you are free to believe what you want to believe, and to preach. In Canada, the laws and values that promote the equality your school boards undermine inevitably protect your rights as Catholics too. But the buck stops here, literally.
We need to have a conversation. Catholic schools have always been publicly funded in Ontario. The repercussions of removing those public funds, to the thousands and thousands of students in Catholic schools, make it such that we can't just stop funding them. That can't mean, however, that they get a carte blanche.
It seems that as we evolve and mature as a society, we are now reaching a point where secular notions of equality are coming head-to-head with religious teachings. We spend so much time fretting about the accommodation of religious and cultural differences that we've forgotten, that in one respect, we fund that difference and facilitate the very attacks against the values that we lambast others for undercutting.
There is still no gay-straight alliance at my Jewish high school. Nor have rabbinics teachers muzzled their disapproval for homosexuality. But the province doesn't fund that.
The Catholic school boards take our taxpayer money and use that to create environments that disregard the rights and values that bind us together as a province and nation, in spite of the fact that the province is telling them otherwise.
I appreciate the lip service the TCDSB pays to sexual orientation, by including it as an example of diverse traits in its Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy. However, until the Catholic boards can prove that in every respect they practice what they preach, they might consider asking the Pope for funding.
Follow Josh D. Scheinert on Twitter: www.twitter.com/joshscheinert