Ontario could impose Gay-Straight Alliances on Catholic schools

Cardinal Thomas C Collins of Toronto 3 CNA World Catholic News 2 18 12 Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto, Canada.

The provincial government of Ontario is considering a proposal that would force Catholic schools to recognize Gay-Straight Alliances, causing Catholic leaders to say it risks threatening religious freedom and could allow clubs that undermine Church teaching.

Marino Gazzola, president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association, said that the Catholic schools are concerned that the government has proposed an amendment "aimed directly" at Catholic school boards  and the trustees' association "as we have been vocal opponents to the imposition of  Gay-Straight Alliances on Catholic schools from the outset."

He also voiced concern that the proposal wants to legislate an anti-bullying group name "for only one demographic of students who are bullied."

"It is our view that this amendment will add no substantive elements to anti-bullying measures," Gazzola told CNA May 29.

Ontario Education Minister Laurel Broten introduced an amendment on May 25 to the Liberal government's anti-bullying bill that would bar Catholic school officials from vetoing clubs named Gay-Straight Alliance.
She said students have told the government that it is important to have a club name that reflects their identity, the Toronto Sun reports.

Broten said she and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty had been "very clear" it was not in the power of the Ontario government to tell students what their club name should be "but neither should it be for someone else sitting in some other office in the province to tell them what the name of their club can’t be."

The proposal would mean that the Catholic schools must recognize a Gay-Straight Alliance club if one student requests it.

The proposed amendment comes after the publicly funded Catholic school system in January 2012 released a schools resource called "Respecting Difference" to address anti-bullying, equity and diversity concerns.

Gazzola said Ontario Catholic schools have "for many years offered peer groups and equity focused groups to oppose bullying and support students in our schools."

Cardinal Thomas Collins, the Archbishop of Toronto, also weighed-in on the matter, saying there is no reason for the controversy because everyone wants "loving and welcoming schools."

"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," he said in a May 28 statement.

He characterized the Gay-Straight Alliance as "a particular method of addressing one form of bullying" and questioned why the provincial legislation intends to make this method "normative" for Catholic schools.

"If the point is that there is something unacceptable about those Catholic principles, then I find that troubling, and wonder whether caricatures of Catholic faith are in play," the cardinal said.

He said the Gay-Straight Alliance model is "so closely related to a movement with particular views concerning the human person and the issues of life" that people who disagree with those views are "understandably concerned" that it will not only address bullying but will promote those values.

Cardinal Collins asked why Catholics are not free to design their own methods to fight bullying and provide students with support as long as Catholics "attain the common goal of a welcoming and supportive school."

"Why must they instead be compelled to accept a particular method that comes from a different approach to the great issues of life?" he asked.

"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," Cardinal Collins stated. "Catholic schools must be places where each person is received as Christ."

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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."

"If it happens to us, it can happen to you, on this and other issues. When religious freedom becomes a second class right, you also will eventually be affected," he said.

Catholic educators are seeking the amendment's defeat but have not decided whether to make a constitutional challenge to the bill if it passes.

Gazzola told CNA it is "premature" to comment on any religious freedom issues regarding the bill before it is passed in the legislature.

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He said Ontario opponents of the proposed amendment should contact their Member of the Provincial Parliament and the Minister of Education.

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