The Ontario Legislature recently passed its controversial anti-bullying law. The law, among many other things, forces Ontario's Catholic schools to allow Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) and allow them to be called GSAs. Response from religious conservatives was swift, they claimed that the bill infringes on religious freedom and the rights of parents to raise their children.
Although I am agnostic, I have contemplated during discussions over this bill where the rights of a child start and the rights of a parent end. What happens when religious freedom is pitted against other fundamental human rights? The answer, once I found it, was really quite simple. If we were discussing any religion other than Christianity, the answer for most, including anti-gay Catholics, would be easy.
There are religions and religious sects in the world that do not believe that girls should be educated. There are groups that still view women as, essentially, property, and Ontario parents would never stand for those views being upheld in schools or by the legislature.
There are groups that believe that certain ethnic or religious groups are inferior and groups that believe in the caste system, that the social class of their parents should limit individuals. In fact, at various points in history, Christianity has firmly endorsed all of these beliefs.
In all cases, Christianity has been forced to change these views due to societal pressure, not by internal debate. It goes without saying that none of these beliefs, regardless of any questions of religious freedom or parental rights, would be acceptable in Ontario in 2012. This is especially true of these beliefs being espoused in a publicly-funded school system.
The reality is that Catholic schools created an unsafe and unwelcoming environment for gay students. While there is evidence to support this the only evidence that is really needed is that gay students, or a sufficient number of them, did not feel safe or welcome.
While some wanted the Ontario government to allow the Catholic school boards to try again to find a way to make schools safer within the confines of Catholic teaching, the reality is the Catholic Church does not have a strong track record when it comes to tolerance and human rights.
While the church would like us to believe that witch hunts, inquisitions and neutrality on the Holocaust are part of ancient history and a different church, actual evidence offers little hope. Corporal punishment is synonymous with most people's impressions of Catholic schools. Child abuse by clergy, and the subsequent cover-ups of that abuse continue to make headlines and, while some have said that Bill 13 is the equivalent of residential schools, those schools were run by Catholics and other Christian churches.
Currently the Catholic church and other religious conservative groups continue to lobby worldwide against gay rights. Given the track record and their views on homosexuality, it should come as no surprise that elected representatives felt the need to intervene and be very specific about what was required.
So, is the Ontario government interfering with religious freedom and the rights of parents? It could certainly be framed that way, but the teaching of hate, bigotry and intolerance is irresponsible to the point of being abusive. It is damaging to children who will live as adults in a tolerant, diverse, multicultural society.
Teaching gay children that they are somehow inferior or immoral because of the way they were born, in the name of religion or otherwise, is also abusive. Regardless of your religious or cultural beliefs, if you are raising your children on hate, bigotry and intolerance, in my opinion the government can and should intervene.
While they may not be able to vote yet, children too have rights. In cases where the religious beliefs of a parent come into conflict with a child's basic rights to safety, a quality education, freedom from prejudice and free association with their peers, the rights of the child should win out every time.
Every person in Ontario is entitled to believe anything they choose to believe. They do not, however, have the right to use those beliefs to cause harm to or interfere with the basic, guaranteed human rights of others who do not share the same beliefs.
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