Agreement ought to be possible, unless agreement is not sincerely being sought. The government of Ontario has launched an anti-bullying initiative for schools. The initiative draws particular attention to bullying on matters of sexual identity and has mandated student clubs as one remedy.
The province’s proposed legislation says that principals must create such clubs if students ask for them, and that they must be called “gay-straight alliances,” if the students request that that be the name. A bouquet of students by any other name apparently would not smell as sweet.
The trustees of Catholic school boards — who are elected, it should be remembered, just as are the MPPs at Queen’s Park — have objected. Not to the anti-bullying effort, but to setting one form of bullying — sexual identity — above all others, and mandating clubs which at least implicitly will advocate that traditional Christian (and Jewish and Muslim) teaching regarding homosexual acts is wrong.
The Catholic trustees have proposed a “respecting differences” approach, which relies on Catholic teaching against bullying in any form, including that directed toward students with a homosexual orientation. But the McGuinty government is adamant that only its approach will be tolerated, and clarified last week that the “gay-straight alliance” name of the student clubs will be — bizarrely — mandatory by statute if the students request it. Given that guarantee by the government, does anyone believe that the students will not do exactly that?
There are not a few people in the education ministry who would prefer that Catholic schools not exist, or at least not be publicly funded. They are free to make that argument, but given that the schools are constitutionally guaranteed, it is simply intolerant to say that Catholic schools must in this regard teach something contrary to the Catholic faith, namely that there is no moral difference between homosexual acts and heterosexual acts. There are not a few parents in the public-school system who might object to that too, but leave that aside for the moment.
The Catholic trustees argue that if the point is to stop bullying, then there are plenty of Catholic resources to teach just that, including against homosexual students. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that bullying on the grounds of sexual orientation is immoral. And while the government seems to have a problem with Catholic teaching on homosexual acts being immoral, they should be reminded that the Church teaches against most of the sexual activity that students engage in. Most of that is heterosexual, including matters such as pornography and fornication, to employ a word no longer used even as the activity flourishes.
Heterosexual practice can also be grounds for bullying. Ask any girl who has been insulted and ridiculed for being “loose” or pregnant. It’s a more common phenomenon than sexual identity questions. Should the government mandate the “birth-control/abstinence club” or the “promiscuity-virginity club” or the “abortion-childbirth alliance” wherein both options would be presented as morally equivalent? That would force Catholic schools to countenance as morally good sexual relations outside of marriage in direct defiance of millennia of settled moral teaching.
That the government is unhinged on homosexuality is demonstrated by the fact that research in the Toronto District School Board shows that bullying is primarily about body image and academic achievement, with gender, religion and income as other minor factors. So where is the mandate for the “Acne-clear skin alliance”? How about the “scholars-dullards” club?
The absurdity of the government’s intransigence has made it clear that the anti-bullying measures are being used to effect a theological change in Catholic teaching in the schools. That is beyond the competence of the state, a violation of the constitution and an egregious assault on religious liberty.
The peremptory diktat from the education minister last week revealed her as a public policy bully, picking on those who have the temerity to object to the government teaching moral theology.
“The Church is dead set against conferring any sign of approval on homosexuality, which it considers ‘intrinsically disordered,’ but is also opposed to any hint of discrimination or insensitivity,” wrote my colleague Kelly McParland. “It simply wants to deal with the situation in its own way. Cardinal Thomas Collins wonders ‘why a piece of legislation is being used to micromanage the naming of student clubs.’ The reason is that the province has seized on the fight against bullying with evangelistic zeal and will brook no opposition to its crusade.”
Crusade is an apt word. But not evangelistic. The government certainly has a different gospel it wants to enforce. Yet it does not propose as a preacher, but imposes as a bureaucrat.