Thomas Cardinal Collins opposes students calling clubs âgay-straight alliancesâKeith Leslie ("The Globe and Mail," May 28, 2012)
Toronto, Canada – Public funding of Catholic schools clashed with the right to religious freedom Monday as one of the most powerful church leaders in Canada attacked the Ontario governmentâs anti-bullying legislation.
âPlease consider the implications for all when legislation is enacted that overrides the deeply held beliefs of any faith community, and intrudes on its freedom to act in a way that is in accord with its principles of consciences,â said Thomas Cardinal Collins, Archbishop of Toronto.
The Liberal government initially said Catholic trustees could determine the name for new anti-homophobia student clubs called for in the legislation.
However, last Friday Education Minister Laurel Broten announced all schools would have to allow the groups to be called gay-straight alliances if thatâs what the students want.
âWhy is a piece of provincial legislation being used to micromanage the naming of student clubs?â asked Mr. Collins.
âWe all are committed to obeying the law, but we can question whether the law is wise, whether the law is just or whether a law is a kind of intrusion or limiting of religious freedom.â
Ms. Broten said she changed her mind after hearing from students at committee who said they donât want her or principals and trustees dictating the names of their clubs.
âWe know that words matter. The message that weâre giving to Ontario students today is you will be listened to, itâs your club,â Ms. Broten told reporters.
âThe premier and I were both very clear that it was not for us at Queenâs Park to tell them what the name of their club 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 canât be.â
Ms. Broten didnât want to speculate about what action she would take if the Catholic schools donât allow clubs to be called gay-straight alliances, but suggested cutting funding for those who donât obey the law was one option.
Mr. Collins, who is also president of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario, said trustees and principals are the legitimate stewards of the spiritual tradition of Catholic schools, not students.
âShould one student suddenly be able to determine the method to deal with the issues in a school?â he asked.
âI find that very puzzling. The point at issue here is the imposition of the one approach to deal with an issue to which there are many approaches.â
The cardinal warned other faiths could become targets of the government if the anti-bullying bill becomes law and doesnât allow Catholic schools the right to deal with homophobia in their own ways.
âI would say to people of other faiths and even those who disagree with us on [gay-straight alliances]: if this could happen to us it can happen to you in some other area,â he said.
âWhen religious freedom becomes a second-class right, you also will eventually be affected.â
Mr. Collins did not point out that no other religious group gets public funding for their schools in Ontario.
The Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association called the word gay âa distractionâ and said anti-bullying legislation is supposed to protect all students, not just those who are picked on because of their sexual orientation.
âWe donât want to focus on the name,â said OCSTA president Marino Gazzola.
âWe want to focus on the content and what the groups are all about. These are externally developed groups that do not necessarily reflect the unique values of our students.â
The government could not say what percentage of Ontario households or voters are separate school supporters or how much taxpayers have to pay to subsidize the Catholic education system.
The Progressive Conservatives said the Liberals were picking a fight with the Catholic school system, which gets about 33 per cent of Ontarioâs $24-billion annual education budget.
âThe government has decided in this case to be aggressive, they want to provoke the Catholic education system for whatever reason,â said Tory education critic Lisa MacLeod.
The Green Party of Ontario said the gay-straight alliance issue is a good example of why the cash-strapped province needs to eliminate the separate school system entirely.
âThis absolutely is an example of how dangerous it is when you start funding one religion at the exclusion of all others,â said Green Leader Mike Schreiner.
âWeâre talking about cutting essential services, including a number of services in the education sector, without even considering or having a conversation about the most obvious source of duplication in the system, which is the fact that we fund two separate school boards.â
The Tories said they would try to block the amendment that would force Catholic schools to allow gay-straight alliances by that name.
âIâm personally of the view if children want a club they should have a club. However, you have to allow the school community to have a say in that as well,â said Ms. MacLeod.
âI believe that there needs to be less, not more government intrusion in the lives of people, and we donât believe that Queenâs Park should be legislating kidsâ clubs names, regardless of what they are.â
The New Democrats said the Liberals have finally got it right by admitting you canât solve a problem like homophobia if youâre afraid to use the word âgay.â
âItâs pretty clear that all the boards should be following the same rules,â said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.