HAMILTON, Ontario, November 24, 2016 () — An Ontario judge has ruled against a Hamilton father of two in a decision critics say strikes a major blow to parental rights.
Steve Tourloukis took the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) to court after it refused to give him advance notice when his children would be exposed in the classroom to sensitive subjects, such as homosexuality and abortion.
He wanted advance notice so he could decide whether or not to pull his kids from lessons he found objectionable according to his Greek Orthodox faith.
Tourloukis asked the Court to rule that board’s decision violated his Charter rights of freedom of religion, and to declare he had final authority over the education of his children.
In a 24-page judgement released Wednesday, Justice Robert Reid of the Ontario Superior Court found that the HWDSB had indeed impinged on Tourloukis’ Charter-protected right of religious freedom.
But Reid concluded the board’s refusal to grant Tourloukis religious accommodation, including giving him advance notice, was “reasonable,” given the board’s statutory obligations — particularly those outlined in the Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy launched by then-Education minister Kathleen Wynne in 2009.
Read the full judgement here.
Reid also ruled that the board’s decision struck a proportional balance with competing Charter rights of “equality and multiculturalism.”
Being permitted to pull his children from classes he objected to would allow Tourloukis “to isolate his children from aspects of the curriculum that in his religious belief would amount to ‘false teaching’,” wrote Reid.
“However, isolation is antithetical to the competing legislative mandate and the Charter values favouring inclusivity, equality and multiculturalism.”
The justice also tossed out Tourloukis’ request that the Court declare that, as a parent, he has the final authority over the education of his children.
Reid wrote that “parental rights” are “a matter of some nuance,” and added that a “black-and-white declaration of parental authority” would “oversimplify the common law principles” that were not in dispute.
He also opined that Tourloukis has the option of taking his kids out of public school if he is worried about “false teaching.”
Blow to parental rights
Pro-family advocates denounced the ruling as a blow to parental rights.
“I’m so saddened by the court decision. It’s a terrible verdict for parental rights in this province. My heart and prayers go out to Dr. Steve Tourloukis and his family,” noted Lou Iacobelli, chair of the Parental Rights in Education Defense Fund, which has bankrolled the four-year-long court challenge.
“This decision goes against the parental right to withdraw children from the radical sex curriculum, and it amounts to the undoing of parental rights in Ontario,” Iacobelli told LifeSiteNews in an email. “The judge is essentially telling parents that they have rights but those rights come to an end when children attend the public school system.”
Jack Fonseca of Campaign Life echoed this, describing the ruling as “terrible.”
“It essentially says that parental rights are subordinate to the State’s rights,” he told LifeSiteNews.
“While acknowledging the impingement on the father’s right to religious freedom is not a trivial matter, Justice Reid nonetheless renders it trivial, subjecting Tourloukis’s Charter right to the superiority of the school board’s alleged duty to embed homosexuality, gender identity, anti-heterosexism, anti-homophobia into all subject matters,” added Fonseca.
“The courts have ruled against parents, who are the first educators and always will be,” noted Tanya-Granic Allen, president of Parents As First Educators (PAFE).
"For the government to get involved in a school board matter is ludicrous,” she told LifeSiteNews in an email. “Will the Kathleen Wynne government's totalitarian attitude towards parents ever stop? Based on recent events and actions, I think not -- not unless parents rise up against the politicians who think they run the families of Ontario.”
Equity Policy “at odds with” Christian beliefs: judge
Tourloukis, a Hamilton dentist, launched his challenge in 2012, but it dates back to his 2010 request for religious accommodation, when his daughter was in junior kindergarten and his son in Grade 2, and which the HWDSB denied on the basis of its Equity Policy.
The Liberal government and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) both intervened in the case, which was heard June 23.
Lawyer Albertos Polizogopoulos asked the Court to rule that not only had the HWDSB violated the Charter, but its refusal to grant the religious accommodation request was discrimination under Ontario’s Human Rights Code.
Tourloukis did not object to his children receiving factual information, or to students talking about these matters, Polizogopoulos argued, but he wanted to know when and how these would be conveyed in the classroom, because teachers are authority figures “and hold a very special place in the eyes of children.”
In his ruling, Reid accepted that Tourloukis’s religious beliefs were sincerely held.
Those beliefs include “that marriage is a sacrament and that sexual relations are sacred and should only be between a man and a woman within the sacred institution of marriage,” noted the justice.
“Likewise, he believes that same-sex sexual relations are not God’s intention and that there are only two genders, namely male and female.”
Tourloukis also believes it would be a sin if he did not protect his children from “false teachings,” which include “moral relativism and issues around human sexuality,” wrote Reid.
And Tourloukis “demonstrated his religious tenets are significantly at odds with numerous aspects of the Board’s Equity Policy including, but not solely, as regards sexual orientation.”
In its Equity Policy, wrote Reid, the HWDSB “committed to ensure that classroom practices are anti-homophobic and anti-heterosexist.”
“To allow his children to be exposed to the ‘open’ approach to human sexuality contained in the Equity Policy would be to allow them exposure to what he characterizes as ‘false teachings’ which is contrary to his faith,” Reid wrote. “Exposure is a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’ and it is the fact of the exposure, not the result that the applicant feels under a religious obligation to prevent.”
Board’s infringement of Charter rights “reasonable”
Reid agreed that board’s “interference” with Tourloukis’s Charter rights of religious freedom “is not trivial or insubstantial.”
Indeed, the HWDSB’s Equity Policy “created a direct impingement on the applicant’s right to religious freedom as he defines it.”
Nevertheless, the board’s decision that it cannot “accommodate religious values and beliefs that clearly conflict with mandated Ministry of Education and board policies” was reasonable, concluded Reid.
He ruled, moreover, that the board’s decision strikes a proportional balance between Tourloukis’ religious rights and its Equity Policy objectives, which fall under the “Charter protected values of equality and multiculturalism.”
Reid noted that the HWDSB based its Equity Policy on the Ministry of Education’s Policy Program Memorandum 119 of 2009, and that Bill 13, which mandated equity and inclusivity policies in all publicly funded schools, was not in force when Tourloukis launched his case.
But Bill 13, which passed in June 2012, “is an after-the-fact confirmation of the previous mandate of the Education Act, as was understood by the respondent and is consonant with the provisions of PPM 119 and the Board’s Equity Policy.”
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