Christians in British Columbia, Canada, are worried that courts are undermining their religious rights in the classroom. They are troubled by courts' willingness to let teachers use pro-gay books in the classroom.

In 1997 the Surrey School Board told gay-rights activist James Chamberlain that he could not teach his kindergarten students using the books One Dad, Two Dads, Brown Dad, Blue Dads; Asha's Mums; and Belinda's Bouquet. The board said the books would offend some parents' religious views. Chamberlain sued, saying the board violated the provincial School Act, which requires public schools to be "secular and nonsectarian."

In late December, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled 7-2 in Chamberlain v. the Surrey School Board that the school board must reconsider its classroom ban.

The case has alarmed Christian parents and educators in British Columbia. Brenda Hauser said she plans to send her children in grades 4, 5, and 7, who now attend a Surrey public school, to a Christian school. "I'm completely for teaching my children tolerance and to love another student who may have gay parents," Hauser said. "But these books … are propaganda for a lifestyle."

Catholic and evangelical concerns in the Surrey school district are mounting, says Dave Leuwen, principal of Mennonite Educational Institute's secondary school in nearby Abbotsford. Surrey is the province's largest public school district, with 62,000 students.

"British Columbia's public school numbers have declined by 7,000 in the past few years, with about 2,000 of that drop attributed to enrollments in independent schools," Leuwen said.

He links the migration to a series of legal cases on sexual orientation. "Our enrollments have doubled in the past six years," Leuwen said.

The Supreme Court ruling does not order the Surrey board to overturn its ban on classroom use of the books, which are available in the school library. Mary Polak, chairwoman of school board, said the high court permitted the board to use the views of religious parents in its decision-making. But the court said the board couldn't "use the religious views of one part of the community to exclude from consideration the values of other members of the community."

Polak said the court ruling leaves it to the eight-member board to determine whether the books are appropriate tools for classroom instruction on tolerance. If the board can find another vehicle for teaching tolerance, Polak said, there may be a chance it can continue to keep the controversial books out of the classroom. But Chamberlain, in comments to local reporters, said the board must approve classroom use of the books. "They really don't have a leg to stand on," he told Surrey Now.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver, and the Canadian Alliance for Social Justice and Family Values formed a coalition to intervene in the case, said Cindy Silver, co-counsel for the coalition.

Silver believes the court ruling erodes parents' rights to protect their children from learning about sexuality in ways they consider inappropriate or misleading. Public schools generally introduce sexuality as a subject in fourth- through sixth-grade health classes. "Teachers are authority figures. Five- and six-year-olds are still very young to distinguish between opinion and fact," Silver said.

Bruce Clemenger, director of the EFC's Center for Faith and Public Life in Ottawa, said the court ruling shows that "tolerance trumps religion" in the public school system.

Related Elsewhere

The ruling in Chamberlain v. the Surrey School Board is available at the site of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Following the overturning of the decision, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada put out a press release saying it was, "disturbed by the serious implications of the Court's decision for the continued participation of religious parents in the public school system."

Other coverage includes:

Canada OKs pro-'gay' books for kids—World NetDaily, (Dec. 28, 2002)
Surrey school board taken to court over gay-parent booksChristianWeek

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