Introduction: This essay by Sean Murphy, Director, CCRL Western Region, responds to a column by a homosexual activist published in the magazine of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation.

February 13, 2007 – Writing in Teacher Newsmagazine in the garb of a “guardian of public education,” Murray Corren urges his colleagues to assert their “professional autonomy” and “fend off” parents who refuse to allow their children to participate in classes for reasons of conscience or religion. He asks, “Whose worldview should we privilege and whose should we censor? Who should decide what gets taught and what doesn’t?”1

For an answer to this question, one has only to look at Mr. Corren’s private
agreement with the provincial Ministry of Education. It awards him and Peter
Corren privileged status in the development of public education policy and
curriculum.(2) The agreement was signed secretly, includes a provision for
continuing secrecy,(3) and was kept secret for over a month after it was
signed.(4) The first part of the agreement is intended to prevent objecting
parents from removing their children from Kindergarten to Grade 12 classes
when “queer-positive” lessons are taught.(5)

Clearly, it is Mr. Corren’s worldview that is privileged. Those who disagree
with it will be censored, and a coterie of ‘professionals’ who share his views
will decide what gets taught.

For example, the Ministry of Education called an invitation-only meeting to
discuss the proposed Grade 12 ‘social justice’ elective with the Correns and
others deemed worthy of consultation, like the BCTF and the SPCA.(6)
Representatives of the province’s religious traditions were not invited;
groups opposed to the Corren agreement and concerned about curriculum
revisions were deliberately excluded. The President of the BC Civil Liberties
Association – one of the select invitees – sniffed that such groups “should
not be contributing to any dialogue on education reform.”(7)

Everyone is equal in public education, it seems, but some are more equal than

In the light of all of this, it is tempting, as Mr. Corren parades in his
robes of office as a “guardian of public education,” to observe that the
emperor has no clothes. But one does not do so. Instead, one humours his claim
to the guardian of public education, on the condition that he admits that he
shares the office with fellow citizens – including those who disagree with
him. But his assumption of guardianship over other people’s children warrants
a different response.

The Minister of Education is not the source of parental authority, nor is a
teaching degree or professional certification the source of a teacher’s
authority as it relates to the educational and moral formation of students
entrusted to them. Quite the reverse: the authority of the Minister, teachers
and administrators with respect to students is delegated to them by parents, a
delegation reflected in the traditional statement that teachers act in loco

Parents do not surrender their authority to the state, to a union, to a
profession or to special interest activists when they entrust their children
to a public school system. They remain the primary educators of their
children, and this primacy is not only in order of time and importance, but in
order of authority, regardless of religious affiliation. It cannot be suppressed
by the Corren’s private agreement with the government, nor by fiat
of the Ministry of Education.

Moreover, citizens do not surrender freedom of conscience, religion, thought
and belief as a condition of attending a public school. No direction from the
Ministry of Education and no private agreements with special interest
activists can relieve teachers, administrators and school districts of their
responsibility to accommodate these fundamental freedoms. Were that the case,
it would give them the power to override the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a
power which has been granted only to Parliament and provincial legislatures.
There is also the issue of international agreements, to which Canada is a

Of course, it can be awkward to apply these principles in practice. Mr. Corren
asks if the “sensitivities” of one parent should determine what novels are
used in a public school classroom. Clearly not; no more than Mr. Corren’s
sensitivities should force curriculum revisions on the entire public school
system. If sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, his private contract
with the government is markedly inconsistent with his scornful rhetoric about
the sensitivities and religious beliefs of “a small segment of the parent

Once more, everyone is equal in public education, but some are more equal than

Still, the question remains. How should a teacher respond if parents refuse to
allow their children to participate in lessons or classes “mandated” by the
curriculum? Mr. Corren urges his colleagues to “take a stand” and invite the objectors to
avail themselves of “other educational options,” ignoring the fact that home-
schooling is unrealistic for many families, and other alternatives may be
unavailable. This could be remedied by increasing support for charter and
independent schools so that parents in such situations would have a real
choice, but, in the meantime, his solution remains unsatisfactory.

More to the point, Mr. Corren’s answer – “my-way-or-the-highway” – is a wrong
answer that comes of asking the wrong questions. His questions do not lead to
an enlightened response to the dilemma posed by profoundly divergent
worldviews reflected in the classroom. Rather, one should ask how a state
educational system can respect differences among families with diverse moral
and religious outlooks while developing broadly acceptable curriculum

That different parents have different moral or religious outlooks does not
make it impossible for a state educational system to respect those differences
while developing broadly acceptable curriculum standards. If, despite
appropriate consultation, the standards are unacceptable to some parents, they
can be accommodated by acknowledging their authority to withdraw their
children from the objectionable lessons or classes. Alternatively, discussion
between the parents concerned and school authorities may yield other
acceptable solutions. What Mr. Corren thinks of their solutions is

The accommodation of religious and conscientious conviction is not merely
possible; it is a legal obligation that binds teachers and school districts to
the point of undue hardship. Mr. Corren’s call to teachers to “take a stand”
against the accommodation of religious beliefs is, arguably, a statement of an
intention to discriminate, something forbidden by Section 7(1)a of the BC
Human Rights Code. So, for that matter, is the Ministry’s ‘clarified’
Alternative Delivery Policy and the letter from the Deputy Minister of
Education quoted by Mr. Corren. Both of these, by the way, are products of his
private agreement with the government.(9) An uninformed reader would be unaware
of this, since Teacher Newsmagazine does not follow the practice of
professional journals that require disclosure of an author’s ‘competing

Turning to Mr. Corren’s assertion (backed by the Deputy Minister) that
students from objecting families “are not exempted from meeting the prescribed
learning outcomes,”it is time to introduce the elephant in the room.

It is almost unheard of for students in Kindergarten to Grade 8 in British
Columbia to be “held back” (fail a grade) because they have not met prescribed
learning outcomes. Whether or not they meet curriculum standards for reading,
writing, mathematics, socials, or any other subject, students pass from one
grade to the next until the end of Grade 8. Only in Grade 9 are students
required to meet a minimum standard in order to pass a subject, and, even
then, a mark of 50% is all that is needed. This may or may not reflect an
achievement of half the learning outcomes, but it does indicate that something
substantially less than the full complement is acceptable. Further: students
in British Columbia are not suspended or expelled from school for failing to
do assignments or participate in a class activity.(10)

Thus, if a Kindergarten to Grade 8 student does not meet a prescribed outcome
related to Mr. Corren’s “queer-positive” curriculum for reasons of conscience
or religion, that would not justify holding the student back or imposing other
penalties for non-compliance, since that is not done in any other subject.
Similarly, there would be no justification for failing or penalizing a Grade 9
to 12 student in similar circumstances who was otherwise meeting the course

To sum up: Mr. Corren’s appeal to his colleagues to refuse to accommodate
freedom of conscience, religion, thought, opinion and belief is an invitation
to engage in wrongful discrimination that is likely to embroil them in
confrontation and even litigation, all in the service of his personal agenda
and his private contract with the government. It is inconsistent with respect
for authentic pluralism in a liberal democracy, and it is not in the best
interests of students, parents or teachers.


1.  Corren, Murray, “A censor? Who, me?” Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 19,
Number 4, January/February 2007  Accessed 2007-01-31.

2.  Settlement Agreement between Murray Corren and Peter Corren (Complainants)
and Her Majesty the Queen in Right of the Province of British Columbia, as
Represented by the Ministry of Education (Respondent), 28 April, 2006. 
Hereinafter, “The Agreement”

3.  “Subject to any public statement made pursuant to Article 5 of this
Agreement, anything said by a participant or any information or documents
exchanged during any meetings or discussions covered by this Agreement are
confidential, except to the extent to which the parties agree, or may be
required by law.” Article 9, The Agreement.

4.  “The parties will attempt to negotiate a mutually agreeable public
statement about the terms of resolution of the complaints. If such agreement
cannot be reached on or before May 31, 2006, the parties may issue their own
respective public statements. The parties further agree that they will not
publicly discuss the settlement of the complaint, including the terms of
settlement, prior to May 31, 2006.” Article 5, The Agreement.

5.  “Ultimately, the most frequent reason for parents to opt their children
out of classes had to do with any discussion of sexual orientation and gender
identity and same-sex parents,” Murray Corren said. “We felt it was extremely
important for the ministry to delineate exactly where this policy applies and
where it doesn’t.” Smith, Charlie, “Correns unfazed by right-wing backlash.”
Georgia Straight, 9 November, 2006. Accessed 2007-01-29.

“There’s no point in us making the curriculum more queer-positive if people
can take their kids out.” Peter Corren, quoted in Luymes, Glenda, “Hooky
touted for anti-gay parents: Trustee claims Education Ministry policy on
opting out takes away ‘freedom'”. The Province, 12 September 12, 2006

6.  Steffenhagen, Janet, “Activist wants animal rights taught in B.C.
schools: ‘Speciesism’ is a prejudice too, says humane society
.” Vancouver Sun,
25 September, 2006

7.  Hasiuk, Mark, “Concerned Parents accuse ministry of discrimination.” The
Vancouver Courier, 4 October, 2006

8.  “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education thatshould be
given their children.” (From Article 26 – United Nations, Universal
Declaration on Human Rights – 1948). “The best interests of the child shall be
the guiding principle of those responsible for his education and guidance;
that responsibility lies in the first place with his parents.”(From the United
Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child, Principle 7)

9.  “The Respondent [Ministry of Education] will amend the Policy to state
expressly that the Policy applies to Health and Career Education K-7, Health
and Career Education 8 and 9, and Planning 10 and not to any other IRPs; and
that it applies only to the Health curriculum organizer of each of these three
IRPs and to no other curriclum organizers. The Respondent will draft a letter
to all public School Board Chairs and school district Superintendents
(“Letter”) that will be copied to the BC School Trustees Association, BC
School Superintendents Association, BC Principals’ and Vice-Principals’
Association, BC Teachers’ Federation and the BC Confederation of Parent
Advisory Councils that will clarify the true nature and limited reach of the
Policy. The Respondent will provide the amended draft Policy and the draft
letter to the Complainants [the Corrrens] for their review on or before July
15, 2006. The Complainants will provide their comments on the . . . Policy
and . . . Letter on or before August 1, 2006. The Respondent will finalize the
wording of the Policy and the Letter, and will implement the Policy and send
out the Letter, with copies of each to the Complainants, on or before
September 15, 2006.” Article 1B, The Agreement.

10.  The statement reflects the usual practice. It is contrary to Ministry of
Education policy to have students repeat a year before Grade 4. “In Grades 4
to 12, the decision for a student to advance or repeat a grade or course will
be made in the best interest of that student by the teachers, parents and the
school principal. In making placement decisions, those involved should
consider the available research, the age of the student, and the intervention
support available.” Ministry of Education, K-12 Education Plan: Placement
Accessed 2007-01-03.  See also Ministry of Education, K-12 Education Plan:
Letter Grades and Symbols  Accessed 2007-01-03; Provincial Letter Grades Order
Accessed 2007-01-03; BC Ministry of Education, Special Program Branch, Focus
on Suspension: A Resource for Schools (1999)  Accessed 2007-02-03.

The practice may explain an observation made by Project Literacy in Victoria,
BC. Many of their clients report “that they have reached a grade level in
school that is significantly higher than their skill set actually reflects.”
One young man who had reached Grade 9 or 10 had about a Grade 4 reading level,
and he was unable to write in cursive script; he could only print. In its
presentation to a legislative committee, Project Literacy cited a study
indicating that “about 20% of Canadians have lower literacy skills than their
education level might indicate.”
Project Literacy Victoria, Presentation to the Select Standing Committee on
Victoria, BC (26 April, 2006) Accessed 2007-02-07.

Catholic Civil Rights League, Feb. 13, 2007