There's a major battle unfolding in Ontario, Canada, over public funding for Catholic schools. The provincial government is considering a proposal that would give these religious schools no choice but to recognize Gay-Straight Alliances -- a mandate that has faith leaders up in arms. If they are forced to recognize these groups, Catholic educators and church heads claim their religious freedom could be under fire.
The proposal, which was introduced by Ontario Education Minister Laurel Broten on May 25, would ban Catholic schools from stopping clubs that go by the "Gay-Straight Alliance" name. This would mean, in essence, that these religious schools would be forced to recognize the clubs by name if requested by the student body. The decision to consider this mandate is complicated, especially considering that the Catholic school system in Ontario is publicly-funded.
This latter fact -- public funding -- is something that atheists and secularists generally oppose, as they maintain that government dollars going to religious institutions is problematic. After all, religious schools teach theocratic doctrines, which some say cause a troubling mixture of church and state.
"The question as to whether Catholic schools should be required to support gay-straight alliances has been satisfactorily answered," said Justin Trottier, spokesman for the Toronto-based atheist group the Centre for Inquiry. "The real question now is whether Ontario should be required to continue to support Catholic schools. The elephant in the room -- public funding of Catholic schools -- has become so destructive to fundamental rights and equality it’s impossible to ignore."
The debate surrounding the issue is both fiery and complex. The National Post provides other perspectives on the matter:
“It looks like they’re bullying the Catholic Church right now and the Catholic education system,” said Lisa MacLeod, the Conservative education critic, who is not a Catholic. “They have done this broad provocation against the Catholic Church … and really shifted focus away from bullying to a very divisive clause.”
John Tory, a Toronto broadcaster and community leader, advocated for public funding of denominational schools — not just Catholic schools — when he was Conservative leader in the 2007 provincial election. The idea of giving all religious groups public money, he said, was a way of ensuring all faith-based schools would be required to buy into Canadian values. [...]
“I don’t understand how an institution can take this stand in the year 2012,” he said.
“The values of the Catholic Church do not match public policy. But if they take public money they can’t have it both ways. By looking like they’re not fully embracing acceptance [of gays] the Catholic hierarchy is starting to push public opinion against funding their schools.”
According to Catholic News Agency (CNA), opposition to the proposal in religious circles comes for a variety of reasons. To begin, Marino Gazzola, president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees, believes that the amendment is directly aimed at Catholics, especially considering that the Christian sect has been opposed to Gay-Straight Alliances for some time now. Additionally, Gazzola maintains that the legislation only protects one demographic of students who are bullied, rather than helping all students who face related challenges.
Gazzola isn't alone in his thoughts on the matter, as his Catholic counterparts agree.
"Catholic educators should be free to make sure that Catholic schools are loving learning environments in which every person is treated with love and respect, and to do so in a way that arises out of our faith tradition and is in harmony with it," Cardinal Thomas Collins, the Archbishop of Toronto, said in a statement. "All of those who care about Catholic education are committed to assuring that Catholic schools are formed by the principles of the Gospel, in which all people are treated with love and respect. Catholic schools must be places where each person is received as Christ."
He said the parliamentary proposal undermines adult authority and prevents the adults responsible for the schools from questioning whether a Gay-Straight Alliance is the most effective method to help students.
The cardinal related that Catholic and non-Catholic parents of students have voiced concern about the proposal to impose the alliances. Non-Catholic parents often send their children to Catholic schools "precisely because they expect a particular approach to life which is largely in harmony with their family and faith convictions."
Cardinal Collins urged Catholics to reflect on the implications of the proposed change in policy and how it advances the "extraordinary privileging" of one anti-bullying method.
At the same time, he asked supporters of the alliances to consider the implications of legislation that "overrides the deeply held beliefs of any faith community."
Currently, Catholics are watching the proposal closely, as it has not yet passed in the legislature. If it does become law, there is no telling whether the church will challenge the mandate in court. The amendment is expected to pass next week, a point at which the Church's next steps will likely be made more apparent.
(H/T: Catholic News Agency)