Chamberlain v. Surrey School District No. 36
My response and others' responses to me
It's a beautiful planet . . .
No deity required!
The Story in Brief
I originally posted the following on the Graveyard of the Gods message board on December 20, 2002, but it got lost due to autopruning of the forums.
Today, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that a school board in Surrey, British Columbia, was wrong to ban the books Asha's Mums, Belinda's Bouquet and One Dad, Two Dads, Brown Dads, Blue Dads from use in the classroom. The books are meant for children in kindergarten or grade one and feature characters with same-sex parents. The school board banned the books from use in the classroom for religious reasons. On a newscast today, the chair of the board mentioned that the books were available in the school library, so they were not fully banned.
The case started when a kindergarten teacher wanted to use the books to decrease homophobia. Some parents were outraged, charging that the books were being used to "teach homosexuality", which they opposed on religous grounds. They took their case to the school board, which championed their cause.
Here are few excerpts from the 7-2 decision, available in full at http://www.lexum.umontreal.ca/csc-scc/en/rec/html/chamberl.en.html:
The School Act's insistence on secularism and non-discrimination lies at the heart of this case. The Act's requirement of secularism in s. 76 does not preclude decisions motivated in whole or in part by religious considerations, provided they are otherwise within the Board's powers. But the Board must act in a way that promotes respect and tolerance for all the diverse groups that it represents and serves.
The Board was authorized to approve or not to approve books for classroom use. But its authority is limited by the requirements in s. 76 of the School Act to conduct schools on "strictly secular and non-sectarian principles" and to inculcate "the highest morality" while avoiding the teaching of any "religious dogma or creed". The words "secular" and "non-sectarian" in the Act imply that no single conception of morality can be allowed to deny or exclude opposed points of view. Disagreement with the practices and beliefs of others, while certainly permissible and perhaps inevitable in a pluralist society, does not justify denying others the opportunity for their views to be represented, or refusing to acknowledge their existence. Whatever the personal views of the Board members might have been, their responsibility to carry out their public duties in accordance with strictly secular and non-sectarian principles included an obligation to avoid making policy decisions on the basis of exclusionary beliefs.
A few links to stories about the decision:
About the books:
Asha's Mums "A beautifully written and illustrated children's book, Asha's Mums explores both the difficulty and love that exists in a family of two women and their daughter."
Belinda's Boquet "BELINDA'S BOUQUET by Leslea Newman is a story of how a young girl named Belinda is teased for having gained weight. She and Daniel, both about ten years old, discover with the help of one of Daniel's mothers and a garden cared for by his other mother that people, like flowers, are different. All people have special needs which make each one quite beautiful and unique. Belinda comes to realize that her body belongs to her and that it is okay to look and be different from others."
Two Dads, Brown Dads, Blue Dads "A girl who is the same color as her father meets Lou, whose two fathers are blue, and wonders if they do things differently from her father, and asks how they became blue"
My letter to the media
This letter was emailed to a number of newspapers in British Columbia and the rest of Canada as well as a few BC radio stations on December 20, 2002
A Victory for Freedom and Reason
The Supreme Court of Canada decision in the case of Chamberlain v. Surrey School District No. 36 is a victory for freedom and reason.
In citing the section of the school act requiring that public schools be conducted on "strictly secular and non-sectarian principles", the SCC reaffirms the religious freedom of all, including the very people who will be the most disappointed by this decision. It means that nobody can use our public schools to force their religious views on students. I think the fundamentalist Christians who will decry this decision ought to remember that they may not always be in a position of power in this country or in every school district and that they may need this very decision to protect their children from having some other religion forced on them. Of course, adherents of other religions who oppose this ruling are well-advised to consider the protection that it offers them, too.
It is a victory for reason in that there is no rational reason to oppose the use in the classroom of books that contain the message that it is okay if one's playmates have two moms or two dads instead of a mom and a dad. The claim that homosexuality or homosexual relationships between consenting adults are "wrong" or "sinful" can only be justified on the basis of religious or cultural prejudice and have no basis in reason, science or Canadian law. For example, the claim that homosexuality is "unnatural" is falsified by the many instances of observed same-sex sexual behavior among wild animals in their natural environments, particularly our evolutionary cousins, the bonobos.
I recognize that many religionists will be as pleased with this decision as those of us who have abandoned religion are and I call on them to urge their more conservative brothers and sisters to affirm the values of freedom, tolerance and reason in Canada, a free, democratic and pluralistic* society. It is a good day to be Canadian.
For those who would like to view it for themselves, this SCC decision can be viewed at http://www.lexum.umontreal.ca/csc-scc/en/rec/html/chamberl.en.html
* After I sent the email, I was chagrined to see that I'd misspelled pluralistic as "plurastic".