Will Christian homeschooling parents in Alberta, Canada, be prevented from teaching their children that homosexuality and abortion are sins? Will they be forced to teach their children anti-Christian doctrines?
Legislation that could lead to such outcomes has been put on hold until after provincial elections scheduled for April 23.
What's the Problem?
`The controversy centers on Section 16 of the proposed Education Act, a section entitled, "Diversity and respect." The key paragraph reads:
"All courses or programs of study offered and instructional materials used must reflect the diverse nature and heritage of society in Alberta, promote understanding and respect for others and honor and respect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Alberta Human Rights Act."
Why does this upset Christian homeschoolers?
The Alberta Human Rights Act explicitly protects "sexual orientation," and proclaims "multiculturalism" in Alberta "a fundamental principle and a matter of public policy." In other words, multiculturalism-the term is not defined in the text of the law-is the law of Alberta. And unless specifically declared otherwise by the legislature, "every law of Alberta is inoperative to the extent that it authorizes or requires the doing of anything prohibited by the Act," reads the text, enshrining the Alberta Human Rights Act as the highest law in Alberta.
Over the years, the Alberta Human Rights Act has been used as a hammer against Christians. Although the law states that "Nothing in this section shall be deemed to interfere with the free expression of opinion on any subject," the Alberta Human Rights Tribunal has notoriously persecuted Christians. Pastor Stephen Boissoin, for example, whose letter to his local newspaper offended a homosexual activist, was ordered by the tribunal 1) to renounce his beliefs, publicly, 2) to pay a stiff fine to the plaintiff, and 3) never again, in writing or in speech, to express his opinion regarding the morality of sodomy.
Alberta's Christian homeschoolers are well aware of such cases as this.
The controversy over the Education Act erupted late in February when an assistant director of communications at the Ministry of Education, Donna McColl, told Lifesite News that Christian schools and homeschooling families would not be allowed to teach that homosexual acts are sinful. "Whatever the nature of schooling-homeschool, private school, Catholic school-we do not tolerate disrespect for differences," Ms. McColl said.
We asked Donna McColl to elaborate on her comments, but she declined. (We note that she was otherwise polite and helpful.) Meanwhile, Minister of Education Thomas Lukaszuk tried to defuse the situation.
"Nothing in this bill is intended to alter in any way a parent's rights in religious or moral education," Lukaszuk said on a talk radio program March 8. "This government has no intention whatsoever to change anything. No government in their right mind would tell families what to teach their children." But when a caller asked why the ministry explicitly "injected the Human Rights Act into the legislation," Lukaszuk could only reply that the Human Rights Act is "overarching legislation" that would govern education in Alberta regardless of whether it was specifically mentioned in the Education Act.
Premier Alison Redford (Progressive Tory Party) also took to the airwaves. She said, "The Education Act reflects a set of values around how we Albertans believe children should be educated and the point is how they are educated, and the Preamble to the Act says that we respect the fact parents have choice."
Asked whether Christian homeschooling parents would still be allowed to teach their children that homosexuality is a sin, the premier said, "Parents are allowed to educate their children in whatever model of school they would like to, and if they have particular views with respect to a number of issues and choose to educate their children at home as a result of that, they are entitled to do that."
More Damage Control
Christians' discontent with the Education Act inspired public protests outside the ministry's headquarters. Homeschoolers organized a campaign to telephone their legislative representatives and demand that the Education Act be voted down. The bills rapid progress through the legislature suddenly slowed to a crawl.
Lukaszuk's next step was to amend the Preamble to the Act. The amended Preamble reads:
"Whereas the Government of Alberta recognizes that parents have a right to choose the religious and ethical traditions in which their children are raised; that a child's education begins in the home; that parents play a foundational role in the moral and spiritual formation of their children; and that these principles are reflected in the commitment of the Government of Alberta to provide parents choice in education, including public schools, separate schools, francophone schools, charter schools, private schools and home education programs."
The protests and the phone calls continued, with more and more Albertans joining in.
"As the Minister knows full well, changing the Preamble changes nothing," said Paul van den Bosch of Wisdom Homeschooling, who also sits on the board of the Alberta Home Education Association. The Preamble is like the introduction and has almost no force of law; the Articles of the act, the body, hold the power. The Minister didn't change the body of the bill."
The ‘Human Rights' Factor
Why do so many Christian families not trust the government to keep its hands off homeschooling?
"Homeschooled children were required to take standardized tests in the past, and they could be again, in the future," van den Bosch said. "If they ever have to take such tests, I don't want my children to lie or play a game if they're asked about their beliefs. And I don't want their character and values to be shaped by the government."
It's the "human rights" apparatus that poses a threat to Christians, said Kenneth Noster, director of Wisdom Homeschooling.
"In the Education Act," he said, "all the curriculum, all the instructional materials, everything must ‘respect' the Human Rights Act. And the burden of proof is always on the defendant. Any plaintiff can come along and say, ‘Show me the proof that you're complying with the Human Rights Act, show me the instructional materials.'"
He added, "There is now technology available to allow a lot of snooping around people's homes."
Is this an unreasonable fear?
Bear in mind that the plaintiff in any "human rights" complaint always stands to win a cash award from the defendant if the plaintiff's case prevails-and acquittals by "human rights" tribunals are almost unheard-of. Any plaintiff can lodge a complaint against virtually anyone. Any kind of "retaliation" against a plaintiff-a malicious prosecution lawsuit, for example-is disallowed by law. The government pays the plaintiff's entire legal costs, and none of the defendant's.
A human rights tribunal is not a court of law, so normal rules of evidence, normal standards of proof, do not apply. Hearsay evidence is regularly accepted. In some cases, the plaintiff's feelings are accepted as evidence-and it's impossible for any defendant to prove he didn't hurt the plaintiff's feelings.
There is no precedent involving a homosexual activist hauling homeschooling parents before a human rights tribunal on the grounds that their education of their children made him feel threatened or merely "uncomfortable" (a basis for any number of complaints).
But there is nothing in the Human Rights Act, as practiced, to prevent this scenario. The text of the law prohibits anyone in Alberta from saying, doing, or publishing anything that "is likely to expose a person or a class of persons to hatred or contempt." There is no reason to believe that this extremely broad prohibition would never be applied against Christian homeschooling parents who teach their children a Biblical morality to which homosexuals or feminists object.
"We are afraid that specific protected groups will be able to use this legislation [the Education Act] to force individuals to accept a value system contrary to their own," Kenneth Noster said.
Unfortunately, the Minister of Education is right. No matter how the Education Act is worded, as long as the Human Rights Act remains on the books, Christian homeschoolers in Alberta will remain at risk. It will take only one successful complaint-and virtually all "human rights" complaints succeed-to inspire more complaints.
Other Threats to Liberty
Elsewhere in Canada, meanwhile, aggressively anti-Christian education laws are becoming the norm.
The Canadian Supreme Court recently upheld Quebec's refusal to allow Christian families to opt their children out of an "ethics and religious culture" curriculum that teaches the equality of all religions and "lifestyle choices."
In Ontario, "Bill 13," if enacted, would require "gay-straight alliances" (homosexual clubs) in all schools-including Catholic and Christian schools, and even churches that rent space in schools. All schools would be required to teach the normalization of homosexuality as well as a "gender education" program that would teach children to question their own gender.
Could this happen in the United States? "Gender education" is already here. And, since 2001, there has been a legal theory that "The state has a role of promoting the independent interest of children, including the right to live a life other than that their parents lead." No one has yet attempted to implement this breath-takingly statist theory-by means of a court ruling, perhaps-but there is no reason to believe that such a thing will never happen.
In Alberta, organized grassroots opposition has put the new Education Act on hold, at least until after the April 23 elections. Although the government insists the Act would not be used against them, Christian homeschoolers remain skeptical. But in Quebec the opposition to the "ethics and religious culture" curriculum has, at least for the time being, failed. In Ontario, opposition to Bill 13 has mounted; but the outcome is uncertain.
Homeschooling is not only deeply embedded in America's Christian heritage, protected by the Constitution; it is also a Christian family's God-given responsibility. It took many years, and many court cases, to establish American homeschooling as firmly as it is today.
But those who believe that children are the property of the state, to be indoctrinated by the state in the state's public schools-teachers' unions, statists and "progressives" of all stripes-are still here, still committed to their own agenda.
We must never take our homeschooling rights for granted.
 For the complete text of the Alberta Human Rights Act, see http://www.canlii.org/en/ab/laws/stat/rsa-2000-c-a-25.5/latest/rsa-2000-c-a-25.5.html
 Audio provided courtesy of Donna McColl, Alberta Ministry of Education
 Email alert from Real Women of Canada, March 28
 See "'Gender-free' Children: The Newest Fad in Public Education," http://www.chalcedon.edu/research/articles/gender-free-children-the-newest-fad-in-public-education/
- Lee Duigon
Lee is the author of the Bell Mountain Series of novels and a contributing editor for our Faith for All of Life magazine. Lee provides commentary on cultural trends and relevant issues to Christians, along with providing cogent book and media reviews.
Lee has his own blog at www.leeduigon.com.