The B.C. Civil Liberties Association will appear as an intervenor before the Supreme Court of Canada today to argue that the B.C. School Act requires the Surrey School Board to ignore the religious objections of parents when it decided whether to approve three children’s books depicting families with same sex parents for use in classrooms.
This case is a test of a fundamental democratic principle that the state must conduct public affairs in a way that is free from religious influence. In the context of the Surrey School Board book case, the BCCLA will argue that, while parents are free to hold and practice religious beliefs in private, their views that homosexuality is a sin and morally wrong are an inappropriate reason for deciding to not approve kids books that depict same sex parented families in a positive light.
According to BCCLA vice president John Russell: “State power cannot be coopted to favour of sheltering certain religious ideals over the need to promote respect for a vulnerable minority. The state cannot sacrifice protections for equal respect for all its citizens in order to promote the religious or secular ideals of certain citizens.”
Thus, the Association will also argue that constraints on the state from importing religious beliefs into the administration of public affairs extend to secular ideals of the good life as well. It is only those shared Canadian values that permit each of us to pursue our own particular conception of the good life that may be legitimately promoted by the state. These values can be found in various sources such as the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
This is particularly relevant in the Surrey School Board case because public schools have a legal obligation to “inculcate the highest morality”. One such moral value, reflected in our Charter and human rights law, is the equality of all citizens and in particular the need to protect minority groups such as a gay and lesbian individuals against discrimination.
“Picture books that promote respect for same-sex families are as necessary today as books that sympathetically portray mixed race families would have been in an earlier generation. Exposing children to these books teaches respect for the diversity that exists within our schools.”
The Supreme Court of Canada hearing comes after the B.C. Supreme Court and B.C. Court of Appeal had previously considered the controversy. The Court of Appeal, though not striking down the school board resolution that refused to approve the books, ruled that individual teachers were free to make the professional decision as to whether to use the books in their classrooms. The B.C. Supreme Court found, as a matter of fact, that the books were age appropriate for kindergarten children.