“We have religious freedom in Canada and if there’s a very specific reason why people, for religious purposes, don’t want their children (to attend), that is an option that they have. The overwhelming majority of our students will participate now that we require Remembrance Day services to be part of school activities.”
<*R><BI>— Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger, Nov. 9, 2012, in defence
of his position that students should not be forced to attend Remembrance Day services.
“At the end of the day, I’m not going to let faith-based schools opt out of providing a safe and caring environment for their students.”
<*R><BI>— Manitoba Education Minister Nancy Allan, Feb. 25,
after the province’s proposed school anti-bullying law
drew criticism from religious schools.
Residents of Brandon West began receiving mail drop pamphlets featuring a full colour picture of their Progressive Conservative MLA, Reg Helwer, a large red poppy and a tag line stating that Manitoba Tories “will honour our veterans.”
On the other side of that postcard-sized ad is a rather unflattering picture of Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger in front of a row of military crosses, stating that for Selinger, “respect is optional.”
Since the little attack ad lacks any detailed contextual information to tell voters what they’re alluding to, we are forced to assume the Tories are referring to Selinger’s words above that he uttered just before Remembrance Day last November.
This particular anti-NDP rant falls several months too late — Remembrance Day took place nearly four months ago, folks. However, though the flyer will likely fail to connect itself to Selinger’s ham-handed opt-out comments of last year, it does underscore the province’s lack of a clear policy on religious freedom, especially in light of this week’s dust-up over the NDP’s proposed anti-bullying legislation.
Last Sunday, more than 1,200 parents, students and community members attended a meeting in Steinbach over the province’s Public Schools Amendment Act, otherwise known as Bill 18. As the National Post reported, Manitoba’s proposed legislation defines bullying broadly, as any behaviour “intended to cause, or should be known to cause, fear, intimidation, humiliation, distress or other forms of harm to another person’s body, feelings, self-esteem, reputation or property.”
And like similar legislation in Ontario, it would require that schools — private and public alike — allow gay straight alliances, in spite of the fact that many in the Christian community believe that homosexuality is wrong.
“Parents are making a significant economic decision to send their children to our school and they’re doing so because they share the same values as the school would,” Steinbach Christian High School principal Scott Wiebe told the Post. “We currently meet all the requirements for funded independent schools in Manitoba and ... (but) our acceptance of funding shouldn’t come at a cost to a charter right, which is freedom of religion.”
The principal of Winnipeg’s Linden Christian School, Rovert Charach, went so far as to say that the province’s communities of faith “feel that they’re being bullied by this process.”
Yet in spite of the opposition to the bill, Education Minister Nancy Allan has firmly rejected pleas to allow religious schools to opt out of the legislation.
In our opinion, private schools that take public funding for their operations should be prepared to adhere to provincial statutes when it comes to matters of education and safety, if and when required by the government.
But that doesn’t excuse the NDP’s hypocrisy regarding the defence and denial of religious freedoms when it suits them.
For Manitoba’s premier to allow students to opt out of Remembrance Day observance based on “religious freedom,” but then allow his ministers to deny those freedoms for schools when their teachings conflict with the political determinations of the government smacks of ineptitude.
There is a lack of subtlety and nuance here that should concern Manitobans — these kinds of mixed messages imply that the NDP lacks a cohesive overall policy and direction. And this becomes a question of leadership that goes right back to the premier’s office.