Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What are you teaching the children?

The story of Hamilton, Ontario dentist Dr Steve Tourloukis' quest to be informed in advance of "lessons taught in school which promote views contrary to our faith" has made the rounds of news services and the blogosphere. Dr Tourloukis, who is Greek Orthodox, is quoted in a Toronto Star newspaper article published on September 11, 2012:
“I’m not an extremist, but I must ensure that my children abstain from certain activities that may include lessons which promote views contrary to our faith,” said Tourloukis, who is supported by a group called the Parental Rights in Education Defense Fund. “We know other denominations like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims are excused for certain activities. Does our being Christian disqualify us from equitable treatment?”
Dr Tourloukis is suing the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board over its refusal to grant him advance notice of instruction on topics he has submitted to his children's school for his approval. According to the September 11, 2012 edition of The Hamilton Spectator newspaper, Dr Tourloukis "is seeking a court declaration that the refusal is a violation of the Education Act, the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms."

Other parents in Ontario -- Christians as well Muslims, so far as we know -- appear to be following Dr Tourloukis' lead and sending "stock letters" to their children's schools. These letters include a number of topics that the parent or guardian might check off as being inappropriate for their child, in which case the parent/guardian requires advance notice in order to remove the children from class that day, or perhaps to request an alternate activity.

Dr Tourloukis raises a worthwhile question. Why indeed are some accommodations made in schools based upon religion? Generally, in my understanding, the issue is one of "reasonable accommodation." It is reasonable to remove a child from a music class that conflicts with the child's religious beliefs because the study of The Arts curriculum is not a human right. Contrastingly, there is no legal requirement for schools in Ontario to alert parents of instruction related to human rights. For practical purposes, it is not reasonable for school staff to collect a list of deemed inappropriate by parents and schedule lessons around those requirements.

How is a child of Lesbian parents to respond if children are removed from the room each time LGBT issues are to addressed? What would our response be should that child's parents ask for her to be removed in the event Catholicism is discussed?

It's not hard to imagine the disruption that would ensue with teachers and office staff tracking this information. In cases of student or teacher absence from the school, make-up lessons would be disruptive to learning generally.

Let's set these concerns aside for a moment and look at the "stock letters" -- available on the website of the P.E.A.C.E. Hamilton Project in .pdf form at this link. P.E.A.C.E. Hamilton describes its mission as follows:
What Is P.E.A.C.E.?
PEACE (Public Education Advocates for Christian Equality) is a network of churches and families desiring to raise our children from a Biblical-Christian world view.
P.E.A.C.E. was formed in response to the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board's Sexual Orientation Strand to the Equity Policy. The intent of the policy is to create a school environment that is welcoming to LGBTTTIQQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, transgendered, Transexual, Two-spirited, Intersexual, Queer, and Questioning) staff and students.
The implementation of the policy, we believe, will be discriminatory towards children and families who are followers of Jesus Christ and who believe in the Holy Scriptures. We understand the intent of the policy, but have expressed concern about other affects of the policy (see concerns with the policy). The concerns were been clearly expressed (please see "Presentations to the Board"). To date the only response from the board to our concerns has been, "Families that hold these traditional values need to communicate them to the teacher, and the child may be exempted from portions of the curriculum that is in conflict with the family's values."
I've underlined a brief portion of the passage above because the "stock letters,"  linked above, and referred to by P.E.A.C.E. as "Spiritual Values Letters," addressed not just homosexuality, but also...
b. Family Life & Sex Education
  1. Instruction in sex education 
  2. Discussion or portrayals of sexual conduct that we determine to be unnatural/unhealthy (anal sex, oral sex, sadism, masochism, bestiality, fetish, bondage, etc.); 
  3. Discussions or portrayals of homosexual/bisexual conduct and relationships and/or transgenderism as natural, healthy or acceptable; 
  4. Teaching about or provides birth control drugs and devices, without parental consent; 
  5. Teaching that abortion is an acceptable method of birth control and that life does not begin at conception; 
  6. Encouraging the acceptance of infanticide or euthanasia; 
  7. Providing a false sense of security with regard to the effectiveness of condoms in preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases;
The letter also requires that the parent or guardian have advance knowledge of lessons pertaining to something called, "Environmental Worship," which P.E.A.C.E. defines as, "placing environmental issues/concerns above the value of Judeo-Christian principles and human life."

One could go on. No doubt these "Spiritual Values Letters" will be carefully parsed by educators, human rights specialists, and others like myself who are passionate about creating positive environments for LGBT people. There's plenty of people more qualified than I am to render an opinion. And my purpose in sharing this information is not to demean the beliefs of parents sending their children to schools in this Province. I am very interested in seeing that LGBT children, family members and allies feel safe and welcome in our schools. I also believe -- scratch that -- I know that a preponderance of people of faith are capable of grasping that their children will interact with others whose beliefs and way of living differ from their own. I also know that children raised in secular -- even Atheistic -- households can respect strongly held beliefs of others.

While P.E.A.C.E. acknowledges the problem of bullying in schools, which has prompted new legislation from the Province of Ontario, it largely sidesteps the issue by declaring homosexuality both a "choice" and a "lifestyle." I hope, as they continue to follow this story, the news media take a close look at the origins of these letters.

The P.E.A.C.E. website provides a .pdf download of a flier published by the US-based Family Research Council, entitled The Top Ten Myths About Homosexuality. The "top ten myths" document argues essentially that homosexuality is a choice; that altering ones sexuality from homosexual to heterosexual is not only possible, but also desirable and ethical for a number of reasons, including reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS. Not surprisingly, it draws a link between homosexuality and pedophilia. In other words, basically, it casually dismisses decades of established scientific fact as part of an anti-Christian conspiracy. It should be noted that because of publications like these, The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified the FRC as a group promoting hatred against the LGBT community.

The FRC is not the only source referenced on the P.E.A.C.E. website. There are also links to the Massachusetts-based organization MassResistance. Labeling itself a "pro-family" group, MassResistance.org includes a free .pdf download of a book by Dr. Scott Lively, entitled REDEEMING THE RAINBOW: A Christian Response to the "Gay" Agenda. Lively is also the co-author of a book denying that the Nazis were anti-homosexual -- The Pink Triangle: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party. MassResistance also holds a place on the SPLC list of groups promoting hatred against the LGBT community. Lively's organization, Abiding Truth Ministries, is also on that list.

One criteria used by SPLC to identify a group as practising hate speech is the repeated publication and dissemination of information that has been factually or scientifically refuted --  that homosexuality is synonymous with pedophilia, for instance.

It would be very interesting to know how our own Ontario Human Rights Commission would define organizations like these operating within the Province.