During the recent (Alberta) provincial election campaign, I asked candidates for their opinion on Alberta’s faith schools. Their replies were dominated by two buzz words, “choice” and “diversity” — and most were eager to change the subject.
The history of religious schools in Alberta is not one of open debate. These decisions have been made behind closed doors between government officials and religious leaders — no public participation welcome. The most recent example was a secret document uncovered by the media in December 2007, showing that the government planned to increase funding for private religious schools.
The religious schools in Alberta fall into three categories: separate (Catholic), private and alternative. The private schools are about 60 per cent funded by the taxpayers, have their own boards and are able to discriminate on religious grounds for both hiring staff and admitting students.
The alternative schools have signed agreements with public school boards in order to obtain 100-per-cent public funding. This loophole allows the religious schools to get their foot in the door, leading (they hope) for full funding as well as full autonomy.
In the words of the Airdrie Koinonia Christian School: “The recent ‘alternative’ agreements signed by the Heritage Christian Academy and the Olds Koinonia Christian School specifically allow for discrimination on the basis of religious faith. While this discrimination may not completely comport with the Alberta School Act, this discrimination is nonetheless spelled out in the agreements. Thus, the province’s contention that public schools do not discriminate is no longer valid.
“Thus, the historical objection of the province here has literally evaporated. There is no longer any justification for the province to deny full operational funding for private schools based on the province’s traditional argument concerning discriminatory practices.”
Indeed, the above quote suggests that the Christian schools used the alternative schools to cleverly set a trap, which the government fell into (or worse, maybe they knew exactly what they were doing). Either way it seems to be working; the Koinonia website claims support from various Tory MLAs.
To have this choice of placing their children into a faith school, parents must obtain a letter from a preacher praising their church devotion and sign a statement of faith. This quote, from the constitution and bylaws of Fort McMurray Christian School Society, is typical: “We believe the Genesis account of creation is to be understood literally; that man was created in God’s own image and after His own likeness; that man’s creation was not by evolution or change of species or development through interminable periods of time from lower to higher form.”
Parents who believe that the first cowboy saddled up a triceratops have more choice as their children can attend either a faith school or a public school. On the other hand, Christians who accept evolution, non-believers, and followers of other faiths can enrol their children only in a public school. Every teaching position in a Christian school means one more fundamentalist teacher, and another teacher is out of a job.
The Fort McMurray school also states: “that the individual should consciously honour and obey those in power so long as they do not violate the teaching of Scripture.” What do they teach when the democratic laws of the land do disagree with the Scripture?
What about Alberta’s “diversity” — isn’t it a good thing? Yes, but more importantly, should we mix the kids together or prevent them from contacting “others”?
Let’s help our children appreciate kids from diverse backgrounds by having them work together. For social harmony, we need to integrate, not segregate our next generation.
When the Catholic school started up in Canmore in 2001, they had to share Lawrence Grassi Middle School with the public school board. The Catholic board tried to build a wall in the school and a fence in the playground to stop their children from mixing with the public school kids. Only the diligence of public school officials stopped this.
How can anyone explain to young children that they aren’t allowed to play with their friends because their parents have different religious beliefs? A wall! Is this Canada or the West Bank?
Separation of church and state is one of the core principles of western democracy. Religion should be a private matter, not a government-funded policy. Many of our ancestors paid with their lives for us to enjoy these rights.
Choice? By all means let’s have choice — for Alberta citizens to participate in the debate. Are Alberta government officials prepared to offer Albertans this choice, or will they meekly surrender our rights to unelected church officials through secret deals?
…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, J.McAllister, after a March 15, 2008 contribution by Scott Rowed in The Edmonton Journal