Serving Calgary, Red Deer, Edmonton and surrounding areas

Secularism and education

by Jack Taylor


In the 2018 Supreme Court decision regarding Trinity Western University vs differing law societies, dissenting Justices Cote and Brown noted in paragraph 332 that “Properly understood, secularism connotes pluralism and respect for diversity, not the suppression of full participation in society by imposing a forced choice between conformity with a single majoritarian norm and withdrawal from the public square. Secularism does not exclude religious beliefs, even discriminatory religious beliefs, from the public square. Rather it guarantees an inclusive public square by neither privileging nor silencing any single view.”

You would have a hard time believing that this message is getting through to teachers and parents in Alberta and BC. Numerous teachers interviewed (not one who was willing to be named due to fear of losing their job) described their existence in the public system in siege like terms, maintaining that they kept a low profile in any area to do with faith. 

“I’ve been in the school system a lot of years,” one Alberta veteran said “and I’m wondering what country this is like now. I don’t like it that people would label me as a hater, intolerant, and one who despises diversity because of what others have done. I just keep my head low and try to love everyone well. I would never wear my cross to an interview and I would never dare articulate what I think to an administrator.”

The courts seem to be leading the way in prompting our schools to set the mindset and lifestyle for the next generations. The recent Bill 24 decision in Alberta, delivered by Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Johanna Kubik, to prohibit school Principals from informing parents if their child was involved in a Gay-Straight Alliance Club, went against the families and the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms which represented them in court. The JCCF had argued that the bill undermined the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (2(a)(b)(d)) and the Alberta Bill of Rights. 

John Carpay (president of JCCF) and Jay Cameron represented the parents and the 26 faith-based schools invested in the decision. Carpay noted that “teachers and principals should be able to decide whether it is appropriate to contact parents.” Alberta’s School Act (CJN, supra note 39) calls on educators to create “welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environments” for all students. An online “Prism Toolkit for Safe and Caring Discussions About Sexual and Gender Minorities” is offered by the Alberta Teachers’ Association to provide guidance.

There is consensus that students must be kept safe but there is a genuine fear that teachers might not be safe if they object or question Education Minister David Eggen’s changes. Jay Cameron noted that “the [Bill 24] legislation is deeply flawed and it fails to protect children.” He sees that while the “intent of the law may be laudable, it doesn’t set out what’s appropriate for different age groups or provide protections for kids who have special needs or other vulnerabilities.” It passed anyway.

The Education Minister has now threatened that 61 Private Schools in Alberta will have their public funding withheld if they don’t submit policies of affirmation for LGBTQ student rights (and display them in a prominent location on their websites). This applies to all Catholic, francophone, charter and private schools which are now bound to immediately start a Gay-Straight Alliance club for any students who requests one – and parents may not be informed of their child’s participation. All 61 schools received notice from Curtis Clarke (deputy education minister) declaring their non-compliance.

One Calgary teacher stated that “In short, it is not only the changes in government policy but the lack of stability, security and consistency in parenting and the impact of technology that is producing a generation of kids that are unruly and this is having such a negative influence on teaching and learning. I sub at one of the best schools in Calgary and the teachers are exhausted, overworked and dealing with so many more behavioural issues than ever before.”

Another Alberta teaching assistant said that the current social reforms mean that there is now a “blatant disregard for anything Christian. Even though there is nothing in print saying we can’t teach on Christmas there is a genuine fear that it is not allowed anymore.” She adds, “I feel that I have had to learn to speak to survive in this system rather than to thrive. There is such a concern and promotion for indigenous spirituality and perspective now that Christian kids are put in a place of feeling shame for their faith.”

Former Wetaskwin school board member, Greg Butt sees that “teachers need to walk a fine line in how they teach curriculum since every school is different depending on the principal and administration.” He advocates that Christians move into positions of influence where they can speak into the decision-making processes. He also suggests that concerned individuals familiarize themselves with the mission and values of each school and find creative ways to partner with the schools in promoting these. 

The architect of Alberta’s former world-class educational system, Stan Wachowicz, is concerned with the decline in the quantity and quality of knowledge noticeable in students. He sees “reduced thinking and problem-solving skills; the loss of choice; the loss of standards and consistency; the inordinate application of technology and reduced competitiveness.” 

The issue is not isolated to Alberta as current issues in Ontario and BC continue to percolate. Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson, former TV host of the 700 Club, wrote on her blog “I have a question for every educator and educational authority in Canada, including the Minister of Education and the BCTF. When research shows that the majority of all kids struggling with gender dysphoria desist at extremely high rates if they are not socially, pharmaceutically or medically intervened with, why then are you pressing for the transition of these children? When we know that transition will equal life long pharma, sterility and the irreversible removal of healthy sex organs, what kind of solution are you proposing? Why are you not respecting parental rights to know when their children are sharing highly important information at school? Who will pay the lawsuits when a large percentage of these kids realize that they never received the real help they should have gotten to get through this difficult challenging season rather than be ushered into a life-changing transition plan on the alter [sic] of political correctness?”

On October 2, 2017, the Statement of Education Policy Order (D-89), BC Ministry of Education Governance and Legislation Branch, states 

“Parents have the right and responsibility to participate in the process of determining the educational goals, policies and services provided for their children. They have a primary responsibility to ensure that children are provided with the healthy and supportive environment necessary for learning. They have a responsibility to help shape and support the goals of the school system and to share in the tasks of educating their young.”

(D-90) “Teachers have the right to exercise professional judgment in providing instruction to students in accordance with specified duties and powers. They have a corresponding responsibility to ensure that each student is provided with quality instruction, to participate in all normal school activities and to monitor the behavior and progress of each learner in accordance with provincial and local policies. They have a responsibility to communicate with students and parents, and are accountable to the School Board and its delegates.”

Some individuals are predicting that it may not be long before secularization completes its suffocating role of squeezing out all healthy Christian teachers and families from having any voice in the future of our educational institutions. If there are courageous voices still left within the learning system, now seems the time to be speaking up.

A recent news release from the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms indicates the Alberta Government is demanding that independent schools renounce their religious policies.