02/05/2013 05:45 EST | Updated 04/07/2013 05:12 EDT

Who Will Stand Up and End Catholic School Funding?

In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Benedict XVI poses with the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Babylon and the Head of the Chaldean Catholic Church Louis Raphaël I Sako, center right, and members of the Synod during a private audience at the Vatican Monday, Feb. 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Osservatore Romano, ho)

When I first read the Toronto Star article "Catholic schools: Ontario parents fighting to have children exempt from religious studies," I wondered why Oliver Erazo sends his kids to Catholic school? And why is he spending so much energy fighting the Catholic board? His kids belong in the public system. But of course this is the public system, and this school is close to their home and has good ratings. Why should they go elsewhere?

Turns out according to Erazo's lawyer, Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, the law clearly states parents can get a full exemption for their children from religious courses and programs. The Catholic Board has granted them most of what they've requested, but won't acknowledge the legal requirement to do so under the Education Act.

I am a big believer in eliminating the publicly-funded Catholic school system altogether. I have nothing against Catholic schools, or only as much as I have against Jewish schools, Muslim schools or any other parochial school. I'd prefer to see religion relegated to the realm of extracurricular, but if you want it all day long, it's your choice. Just pay for it yourself.

No government is going to approve funding for additional religious schools, but that doesn't mean those communities are not fighting for it on the principal of equity. And so they should. The system is unfair. But the route to equality is not to fund all, it's to fund none. It's so obvious.

I'm tired of hearing that access to a Catholic Education is guaranteed in the British North America Act. Lots of sexist, homophobic, racist, inequitable and exclusionary practices are grounded in ancient laws from religious texts to constitutions. That's no reason to keep them. In fact, we've slowly gotten rid of the most offensive of them because as a society, we believe they no longer represent our collective values. There may have been a good progressive reason in Protestant 1867 to protect the rights of minority Catholics, but today our pluralist society will be best served by secular education.

But sadly our Ontario politicians are too chicken to even wade into this debate, never mind do away with the injustice, as other provinces have been bold enough to do. I had a secret fantasy that as a parting gesture Dalton Mcguinty would end public funding for Catholic Education. But he didn't. Will Kathleen Wynne? I doubt it.

So this brings me back to Oliver Erazo, and his sons Amilcar and Jonathan. I'm revising my initial reaction of What can they possibly hope to achieve? I think they're on to something, as were the students and teachers who fought the Catholic Board's ban on Gay Straight Alliance clubs and won, despite the Church's homophobic doctrine.

The way to get to where we need to be -- one healthy public school system -- may just be through incremental challenges: putting time and energy into chipping away at the differences, to the point where the systems are so completely alike, there is no point in having both.

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