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Why Do We Still Allow Religious Schools to Bully Gay Kids?

Posted: 03/25/2013 12:34 pm

A story is recycling itself. A provincial legislature attempts to make its schools safer and more inclusive, and religious individuals claim that the sky is falling and their freedoms are being eroded.

It is a seemingly never-ending struggle about how to protect all of God's children from people who believe that doing so unduly infringes on their ability to follow that same God's teachings.

Last year the challenge was in Ontario, where the province's Catholic schools were required to implement an anti-bullying strategy that included gay-straight alliances. This present debate in Manitoba is similar, but greater. Since Manitoba's religious schools receive over 50 per cent of their funding from the province, they are all being mandated to comply with the proposed legislation: Bill 18 -- The Public Schools Amendment Act (Safe and Inclusive Schools).

Stirring up the debate in Manitoba is whether or not the province can mandate all schools to, in the words of the bill, "accommodate pupils who want to establish and lead activities and organizations that promote the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities; and use the name "gay-straight alliance" or any other name that is consistent with the promotion of a positive school environment that is inclusive and accepting of all pupils."

It seems like a benign request. As it turns out, it is anything but.

Religious leaders all throughout Manitoba are speaking out. In Steinbach, Manitoba the city council has passed a resolution asking the province to reconsider the bill because it will infringe on freedom of religion and "undermine their ability to uphold their faith perspective." Winnipeg's Rabbi Avrohom Altein has written to the Premier arguing that these requirements are akin to students rallying around a "right to eat pork" in an orthodox Jewish school.

It's worth pointing out that religious leaders aren't the only ones speaking out. Federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, whose Manitoba riding includes Steinbach, has sent a letter to constituents opposing the bill saying it poses an "unconstitutional infringement upon the freedom of religion."

One wonders why this federal MP -- who in his opposition to same-sex marriage argued it would lead to polygamy -- has decided to use his position and stature as a federal Member of Parliament to speak out on a provincial matter.

The Minister aside, the concerns over an erosion of freedom of religion cannot be ignored. Religious freedom, for all, is part of what makes Canada a bastion of democratic and civic freedoms. But anyone who uses the language of rights to advance a cause cannot be dismissive of other rights.

Our rights cannot exist in a vacuum, isolated from the reality around them. Rights engage with other rights. Not only does our Charter have a built-in provision to permit the limiting of rights in certain situations, but also, the transactional nature of our public lives dictates that different rights will come into contact other rights. Those who oppose Bill 18 should read the Charter in its entirety; it doesn't stop at freedom of religion, nor is there a hierarchy of rights.

In this regard, the advocates of religious freedom are unable to appreciate the full context of this issue and as a result, keep falling short. Legislators, parents, and students who are trying to root out bullying and make schools a place where all students can feel comfortable (is this too much to ask for?) are not trying to undermine religious freedom. No bill or municipal ordinance, as far as I can tell, says that all private-religious schools, that don't receive a majority of their funding from public funds, must "accommodate" students. No one is proposing that different faiths tone down the intolerance that so many of them preach, even in publicly funded schools. Show me one example of a religious institution being curbed because it teaches texts that refer to homosexuality as an abomination, or that woman's testimony in court is worth less than a man's.

This subject is becoming tiresome. Religion is not under attack, only narrow-mindedness is. And I worry that the narrow-mindedness in some corners of religion will only further cement its isolation and irrelevance in our civic space, an unfortunate outcome.

Our society is transforming. Our ability to empathize has expanded and we are re-imagining what it means to be compassionate. A determination to be better is leading us across new bridges that even five years ago were unimaginable. If only Amanda Todd and Jamie Hubely could see us now.

These are changes that all Canadians should be proud of, and all Canadians, including devout Canadians, have a constructive role to play in how we bring about these changes. It's sad that an increasingly small but vocal minority sees this as regression, when in fact it really is one of the truest forms of our society's advancement.

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  • Christian Bale

    Christian Bale's "Empire of the Sun" was well-received by the critics. His schoolmates had a different opinion. "I took a beating from several boys for years. They put me through hell, punching and kicking me all the time," Bale told People (<a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/7520004.stm">via BBC News</a>).

  • Megan Fox

    "Usually the bullies are the most insecure," <a href="http://www.eonline.com/news/144231/megan-fox-on-how-to-deal-with-bullies">the new mother told E! News</a>. "I was bullied and it's hard, you feel like high school's never going to be over. It's four years of your life and you just have to remember the person picking on you has their own problems and their own issues. And you're going to be OK."

  • Jason Segel

    "Well, it's just one terrible memory that replays every time I have a moment of insecurity," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/18/cameron-diaz-jason-segel-_n_879702.html">Segel told YoungHollywood.com </a>about being called names when he was young. "[My classmates] would stand around me in a circle and they would jump on my back one by one and they would chant, 'Ride the oaf, ride the oaf'."

  • Tom Cruise

    "So many times the big bully comes up, pushes me. Your heart's pounding, you sweat, and you feel like you're going to vomit. I'm not the biggest guy, I never liked hitting someone, but I know if I don't hit that guy hard he's going to pick on me all year. I go, ‘You better fight.' I just laid it down. I don't like bullies," Cruise told Parade magazine in 2006 (<a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2006-04-06/news/0604060155_1_bullies-mary-lee-father">via The Chicago Tribune</a>).

  • Steven Spielberg

    "I was a nerd in those days. Outsider, like the kid that played the clarinet in the band and in orchestra, which I did," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/22/steven-spielberg-anti-semitism-bullying_n_2002155.html">the 65-year-old director recently told "60 Minutes."</a> Spielberg also said he faced anti-Semitism in his Phoenix, Ariz., neighborhood.

  • Demi Lovato

    "I had a really tough time when I was in middle school," <a href="http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20631674,00.html">Lovato told People magazine</a> in September. "People would write 'hate petitions' [about me] and send them around to be signed. They'd have CD-bashing parties of my demos. They'd come to my house, stand across the street and yell things. It was a very emotional time for me, and all I wanted to do was get away."

  • Michelle Trachtenberg

    The "Gossip Girl" actress revealed that she was<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/15/michelle-trachtenberg-e-investigates-bullying-video_n_1777765.html"> bullied by 150 kids</a> in middle school on a special episode of "E! Investigates: Bullying."

  • Winona Ryder

    The "Black Swan" actress, who was raised on a hippie commune, has a bullying story that is pretty fierce. “I was wearing an old Salvation Army shop boy’s suit. As I went to the bathroom I heard people saying, ‘Hey, f*****.’ They slammed my head into a locker. I fell to the ground and they started to kick the s**t out of me. I had to have stitches. The school kicked me out, not the bullies. Years later, I went to a coffee shop and I ran into one of the girls who’d kicked me, and she said, ‘Winona, Winona, can I have your autograph?’ And I said, ‘Do you remember me? Remember in seventh grade you beat up that kid?’ And she said, ‘Kind of.’ And I said, ‘That was me. Go f*** yourself.’”

  • Brittany Snow

    "When I was in middle school and high school a bully would tell me ways to kill myself every day. The bully would put mean things on flyers and hit me and just taunt me in every way. I had no friends. Then, on top of all that, one of my good friends committed suicide because of this bully," <a href="http://www.bettyconfidential.com/ar/ld/a/exclusive-brittany-snow-a-bully-would-tell-me-ways-to-kill-myself-everyday.html?pageID=2">the actress has said</a>.

  • Lady Gaga

    "I didn’t fit in at high school, I wanted to be like Boy George and I felt like a freak," <a href="http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20322691,00.html">the pop star told Ellen DeGeneres</a> in 2009. "It took a long time for me to be OK with myself."

  • Chris Colfer

    The "Glee" star admitted recently that the bullying was so bad in middle school, he opted to be home-schooled instead. “I was very tiny,” <a href="http://popwatch.ew.com/2011/10/03/chris-colfer-glee-new-yorker-festival/">Colfer said at the New Yorker Festival </a>in 2011. “I spent most of my time stuffed into lockers. Thank god for cellphones, or I’d still be in there.”

  • Krysten Ritter

    The "Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23" star <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/18/krysten-ritter-sex-actress-angsty-and-bad_n_1979337.html">told Playboy</a> that she was "picked on" in high school and that "when I became a model, it got even worse because the girls became meaner -- 'Oh my God, I can't believe she's a model. She's not even pretty.'"

  • Kristen Stewart

    "It's not like I didn't care that they made fun of me. It really bothered me. I remember this girl in sixth grade looked at me in gym and was like, 'Oh my God! That's disgusting -- you don't shave your legs!" <a href="http://www.vanityfair.com/online/daily/2012/06/kristen-stewart-responds-critics-shit-eaters-vanity-fair">the "Twilight" star told Vanity Fair </a>about her childhood.

  • Jessica Alba

    "I was bullied so badly my dad used to have to walk me into school so I didn't get attacked. I'd eat my lunch in the nurses' office so I didn't have to sit with the other girls. Apart from my being mixed race, my parents didn't have money so I never had the cute clothes or the cool backpack," Alba told the U.K.'s Daily Mirror.


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