Sunday, May 03, 2009


Being Neighborly

I was going to lay off of Larry Moran this time and not dredge up the proposed change to human rights legislation in the Canadian province of Alberta that would require parents to be notified when classes "include subject matter that deals explicitly with religion, sexuality or sexual orientation," and give them the right to ask that their child sit out that part of the class. I have been accused in the past of reveling in the creationism woes of countries outside the US. But since Larry has raised it himself, let me make one point. As this article states:

Educators and human rights experts in Alberta are worried that a proposed change to human rights legislation could make it tough to teach a number of controversial subjects. ...

The term "religion" is extremely broad and could edge its way into almost anything that comes up in the classroom, said Dan Shapiro, research associate with the Calgary-based Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership.

"It'll be like a kind of Monty Python skit. You have to say: 'Well, today we have to think about the Hindu student's going to object to this and tomorrow the Jewish student to this and then the Catholic student to this,' " said Shapiro.

"It'll be madly off in all directions. (Teachers) are strapped enough for resources and time to do their job properly and help educate children."

Frank Bruseker, head of the Alberta Teachers Association, said he's also concerned about what the new rules could mean.

He's worried that some parents might think mentioning different classes of worms would constitute a reference to evolution.

And he said a discussion of ancient geologic formations can't be had without mentioning the world is billions of years old, much more than a literal reading of the Bible would suggest. ...

"Religion is kind of a fuzzy thing, in a sense, in that what some people see as religion others might not," Bruseker said.

The Tory government doesn't see it that way:

Lindsay Blackett, the Tory minister responsible for human rights, said in an interview that the intention of the law is to only allow parents to pull children out when the curriculum specifically covers religions, something that only happens for a few hours each school year.

"It's talking about religion (such as) Hindu, or Muslim, or that type of religion, not ... the curriculum with respect to, for instance, evolution," he said.

"That's science and we're not arguing science."

There have been questions as to why parental rights in education is being addressed in the Human Rights law:

Human rights law is in place to protect against discrimination on the basis of a number of factors, such as race and gender. It's hard to figure out what type of discrimination is being targeted with the proposed change, McKay-Panos said, suggesting the issue instead falls under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"It's kind of an odd place to put all this," she said. "They could have interpreted the charter already to include that protection if they want to exempt their children by freedom of religion."

The government chose to put the concept into human rights law because it is considered more entrenched than school policy, and the government believes it is a deeply held right, Blackett said.

Larry hopes that the bill will be amended before it is passed. Since the US has had some experience dealing with similar issues under our Bill of Rights, there is some language our courts have devised that may be of some help:

The fact that certain religious individuals [find] some of the material in school textbooks offensive [is] not sufficient to render use of the material in the public schools a violation of the establishment clause.

Given the diversity of religious views in this country, if the standard were merely inconsistency with the beliefs of a particular religion there would be very little that could be taught in the public schools. Authorities list 256 separate and substantial religious bodies to exist in the United States. If we are to eliminate everything that is objectionable to any of these warring sects or inconsistent with any of their doctrines, we will leave public education in shreds. Nothing but educational confusion and a discrediting of the public school system can result.

There is and can be no doubt that the First Amendment does not permit the State to require that teaching and learning must be tailored to the principles or prohibitions of any religious sect or dogma. The state has no legitimate interest in protecting any or all religions from views distasteful to them.

By the way, the above is taken from the recent decision in the case brought by Chad Farnan against James Corbett and the Capistrano Valley High School that some people seem to dislike so much.

Hope that helps, Larry.

John, your suggestions make no sense in a Canadian context.

Teachers in Canadian public schools are not bared from mentioning religion. As a matter of fact, we have public funding of religions schools here in Canada.

There's nothing wrong with teaching evolution in Canadian schools and there's no reason why teachers can't mention how science conflicts with religion in many instances.

As I mentioned several times over the years, my children participated freely in evolution/creation debates in high school and it was very clear which side the high school biology teacher was on.

The issue here is not what can be taught in the schools. There are few very politicians who want to ban evolution or introduce Intelligent Design Creationism. The issue here is whether parents can pull their kinds out of school rather than expose them to science. I don't think that should be allowed so I oppose the bill that's now before the Alberta legislature.
Yes, Larry, I know our systems are different but look at the complaints that your educators and human rights experts are making and they are the same considerations we have already had to address. And the issue our courts have already dealt with was broader than just banning material but addressed government attempts to tailor public education to the religious beliefs of parents.
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