Thursday, September 1, 2011

Pope cannot trump Premier over bullying of gays in Ontario Separate Schools

It is a very complex society in North America, especially in the cities where well over 75% of the population lives, a number than grows yearly. One of the complexities, among many, is the question of political/legal intervention into questions of social justice. In Metropolitan Toronto Roman Catholic schools, along with public schools, there has been a growing issue of bullying, much of it directed towards gay and lesbian students. To counteract these nefarious acts of bullying gays, the province has instituted a model of student peer alliances, organized by students, bringing both gay students and straight students together for the purpose of enhanced awareness, enhanced acceptance and enhanced community building within the schools, a key ingredient to the learning process for all students. Clearly, there would also be a significant decline in the occurrence of bullying, at least with respect to targetted gay students, as a consequence of these alliances.
However, Roman Catholic parents insist on the Roman Catholic church's teaching about homosexuality, which is that it is a "sin" and these parents see a slippery slope in the proposal to "integrate" gays and straight students, the result of which will inevitably be the "lowering of standards of the Roman Catholic faith" and an abandonment of the Roman Catholic teaching about homosexuality.
One Toronto headline dubbed the battle this way: "Pope trumps Premier"...indicating that the teachings of the church take precedence over the "alliances" proposed and instituted by the (Roman Catholic) Premier.
Of course, to takes sides in such a dispute, is to evoke the wrath of the other side. And, as in pregnancy, there is really very little middle ground. Either we are going to promote civility and tolerance and the elimination of this form of bullying, or we are going to honour the teachings of the Roman Catholic church. And let's not forget these Roman Catholic schools are funded by the province, and the Roman Catholic parents are entitled to their "religious" schools under the British North America Act.
However, while not seeking to provoke additional wrath from Roman Catholic parents and trustees, the civil society must take priority over the teachings of the church, when those teachings undergird attitudes or rejection, disdain, and deep and profound judgement of the gay and lesbian community. It is those attitudes that contribute to the violent, and the not-so-violent treatment of gay students in the school system.
The BNA does not guarantee Roman Catholic parents the implied or the stated "right" to foster bigotry, alienation and violence against any group of students in their schools. Of course, parents of gay students do have the option of selecting the public system, but one would think they might have chosen the Roman Catholic system for its "Christian" teachings, in the hope that it would foster the very attitudes of tolerance, acceptance and collegiality that would seem to some to be at the core of the "Christian" faith, as expressed in the gospels of the New Testament. They may even have chosen the Roman Catholic system because they, too, are members of the Roman Catholic church.
The Premier must be supported in his stand to continue to foster and encourage the alliances in the Roman Catholic school system, not in spite of, but rather because of the danger implicit in a culture in which the teachings of the Roman Church are incompatible with of a culture and a climate conducive to learning. Violence, bigotry and forced (and condoned alienation and separation, not to mention terror) against students whose sexual orientation is neither an inducement of the Satan who reigns in their Hell, nor it is a personal choice based on some whim of adolescence.
Here is one important case where the civil society must continue to trump the Vatican, the Pope, and the long-standing teachings of the church against homosexuality.
The Charter of Rights could conceivably be invoked by the Premier, or the Crown, in a case that seeks to uphold his courageous, insightful and honourable intervention. And, should it go to the Supreme Court for a final arbitration, I can only hope that the court will find in favour of the Premier and the Ontario Government.
Alliances between gay and straight students will not, and cannot, be expected to eliminate all bullying, or all violence in and around schools in any jurisdiction. However, to take pro-active steps directed at reducing this "anti-gay" bullying, in all its forms, is one step the wider society and culture can support.
We can only hope that all three parties running in the provincial election in October will support the Premier's stand, and remove this issue from partisan debate. Failure to do so could result in an even more divided school system, not to mention an even more divided body politic.
Just as the Premier has said "no" to the implementation of Sharia Law for those Ontarians of Islamic faith, he must continue to say "no" to the opposition to any form  of intervention that insists on civility between students and between opposing faiths in the culture.

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