The past few months have brought news of policy initiatives that raise questions about the ability of those in public life to express traditional religious beliefs, and the rights of parents in the education of their children. In Ontario, questions have also been raised as to whether the province’s equity policy will interfere with the teaching of Church doctrine in Catholic schools.

The Québec policy against homophobia was released in December by Premier Jean Charest and Justice Minister Kathleen Weil, who is officially “the minister responsible for the fight against homophobia.” This document promises to wipe out attitudes not supportive of all sexual orientations, and is by no means limited to schools, but rather is meant to root out “homophobia” in all public institutions. It promises action against “homophobic attitudes and behaviour patterns” and “sets out the government’s goal of removing all the obstacles” to full recognition of LGBT (lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender) interests and modes of life. According to Douglas Farrow, professor of Christian thought at McGill University, “what is thus promulgated is no ordinary policy document, for it aims at the conversion, not merely of this or that piece of public infrastructure, but of the psychological and moral and sexual infrastructure of a generation. It is not directed at creating a situation of legal equality – that, it proudly proclaims, has already been accomplished – but at creating “a society free of prejudice with regard to sexual diversity.”

In response to the document, Professor Farrow writes, “in committing itself to the assault on heterosexism it (the provincial government) has committed itself to an assault on the family and on the whole fabric of civil and religious communities in Quebec. We are told that “a government action plan, including rigorous monitoring and assessment mechanisms, will ensure the implementation of the policy and the achievement of its objectives.” Institutions, public and private, will be pressed into partnership. The cooperation of every citizen is already expected, and will soon be demanded. A supportive school curriculum, mandatory in nature, will be forthcoming – indeed, the Ethics and Religious Culture program has already laid the foundations.” The Quebec court has ruled that parents cannot exempt their children from this course. The judgment may be appealed.

In Ontario, the comparatively modest “Equity and Inclusive Education Policy” will have all school boards, over time, adopting a written policy committing themselves to equality of access and opportunity for all students, with no discrimination on any of the prohibited grounds, including sexual orientation. As the League said in an interview with The Catholic Register, much of this document is not problematic, nor is it particularly new in that many boards already have comprehensive equity policies. The belief that all students, staff and other members of the school community deserve to be treated fairly and with respect is very much in keeping with Catholic doctrine.

In Ontario, the rights of Catholic schools to give preference to Catholics in hiring, and to teach the Catholic faith, are protected by law. We see nothing intrinsic to the policy that would cause conflict with these rights. With that said, there is potential for those who would challenge those rights to use equity policies as a starting point in human rights’ complaints. Since much of this will unfold at the local level, particularly in the classroom, we can only encourage parents and teachers to be vigilant in upholding the Catholic character of their schools. When a not-dissimilar policy was introduced in the public schools of British Columbia, the League called for protection of the rights of parents to direct the moral education of their children, and insisted that school boards recognize it as well. 

©Catholic Civil Rights League, Jan. 28, 2010