The principal of a southern Alberta private Christian school says he’s defending religious rights and won’t back down despite the threat of losing funding from the Alberta government.
Education Minister David Eggen announced on Nov. 14 that he will pull funding from schools that do not comply with the government’s law to support gay-straight alliances (GSAs).
“We have tried to come close to what the minister has requested without doing what we feel is compromising our religious values and our religious rights,” said Dale Anger, principal of Hope Christian School in the village of Champion, about two hours drive south of Calgary.
Most schools, including all Catholic, public, francophone and charter schools in the province, have complied with the law by writing policies supporting students who wish to create or join GSAs.
In an interview, Eggen praised Catholic school boards in Alberta for submitting policies from the perspective of teaching through their faith.
Hope Christian School is one of 28 private schools in Alberta, representing about 4,000 students, that risk losing an estimated $32.5 million in funding if they fail to publicly post a government-compliant policy affirming the rights of LGBTQ students.
Operators of accredited funded private schools receive 60 to 70 per cent of the eligible per-student funding rates granted to public, separate, Francophone, and charter school authorities in the province, according to Alberta Education.
Hope Christian School, a private evangelical school, has about 900 students from Grade 1 to Grade 12 enrolled in its home education and online programs. Two GSA policies they submitted to the government did not meet the Alberta Education requirements set out in Bill 24.
“We even said I’d be willing to host a GSA, but first of all, we would reserve the right to inform parents if we felt the need, for a child that participated in a GSA; and also students would be counselled from a Christian perspective,” Anger said.
“As a Christian principal and Christian school, we would do all in our power to protect children from being abused and misused because of their sexuality, but I could never tell that child ‘This is the best thing for you.’ I know that they feel that way, but I can’t accept that, and I do not believe that.”
Under provincial law, it is illegal for school authorities to inform parents of a student’s involvement in a gay-straight alliance.
Education Minister David Eggen has said the prohibition is necessary to protect kids who may want to join a GSA but fear of their parents’ reaction.
But Anger said it’s an issue of the right of parents to be informed about their children.
“I’m quite surprised that parents in this province are not up in arms about the loss of their rights when it comes to being informed about their children,” said Anger. “The government really is telling them that they in cases know what’s better for their children than the parents do. I find that very, very alarming.”
The non-compliant schools must publicly post the minister’s order along with the government-worded GSA policy on their websites, or lose their funding for the coming school year. The schools rely on government for up to 70 per cent of their funding.
Anger’s school, owned and operated by the Evangelical Free Church of Champion Alberta, could lose millions in the next school year, if they do not comply with the legislation by June 30, 2019.
Alberta Education says the school received funding of $1,067,677 for students attending the school, and $722,424 for its home education students in the 2017-2018 school year.
While Eggen praised the faith-based schools that have submitted compliant policies, not all of the schools agree with the law, especially those of the Abrahamic religions, said Imam Sadique Pathan of Edmonton’s Al Rashid Mosque.
Imam Pathan said balancing faith with threats of defunding is a challenge, especially for the Jewish, Muslim and Christian traditions.
“We’re pretty aware that most schools would be forced to comply, no matter what. The funding is significant,” Pathan said. “How do we balance our faith and the need to respect our creeds and articles of faith … when the government again threatens to defund schools which do not remove religious content from school policies?”
The mosque’s board is in charge of the Edmonton Islamic Academy, which was on the list of schools with policies that comply with the minister’s orders.
Anger is hoping that an election next spring will change the political landscape. He’s hoping the NDP government will be voted out of office, and a new government will scrap the current law, before his school is forced to post the policy which compromises his religious beliefs.
United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney did not say whether or not he would uphold the minister’s order if his party were to form government next year.
“Our principle would be that kids have a right to set up gay straight alliance or other peer support groups. We totally support that,” Kenney told reporters Nov. 14. “At the same time, we don’t think it’s very useful to be throwing around threats of defunding.”
Kenney has come under fire for his association with Calgary lawyer John Carpay, a UCP member who famously compared the rainbow pride flag to swastikas and communist symbols.
As the head of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), Carpay represents 30 schools who are challenging Alberta Education’s policy regarding GSAs in court.
Jay Cameron, a lawyer with the JCCF, said the GSA law violates parental rights that are protected by the Alberta Bill of Rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
One school was told its religious beliefs on sexuality did not respect diversity, said Cameron. “That’s a concern to us because that tells me that the minister thinks that he’s not only the source of truth but he also thinks he’s the law and that’s what this court case is about.”
Cameron said Education Minister Eggen is skirting the law that requires independent schools to be funded if they are registered and accredited.
In June, Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms lost its bid to stop enforcement of Bill 24. They have appealed that decision and a hearing is scheduled for Dec. 3.