Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Catholic quandary

Been quite a bit of noise late last week and this after a Catholic high school in Thunder Bay sent a student home who, on a pro-life kind of day at school (what day isn't at a Catholic school?), wore the word 'choice' on her clothing.
The Globe and Mail picked up the issue this week, though I believe Thunder Bay's Dougall Media news site broke the issue last week with a pair of articles here and here.
Of course, we're all suitably outraged at how a publicly funded school could be so discriminatory. It's the same concern and anger that was seen in the fall as the Halton Catholic District School Board fumbled the issue of how it handles gay-straight alliances at its high schools. It had prohibited them and now doesn't, not that this has led to an explosion of new gay-straight alliances at Halton Catholic schools or any others around the province. At the time a commenter here was insistent I was passing on the only important story in education in Ontario at the time.
I did pass. And with few exceptions I will, but more on that in a few paragraphs.
Of course, I'm aware the province required schools boards to pass their own equity and inclusive education policies, even punching out a guide on how to do so. One that would, in theory, allow for the sorts of student-, staff- and community led initiatives such as gay-straight alliances to exist in every school and help establish that school and community as a safe space for all.
Yes, it's patently unfair that both these things have happened in Halton and now in Thunder Bay. It does conflict with the larger goals of a mostly-secular, mostly urban province.
And yes, I, on a number of occasions in this space, have disclosed that while I graduated from a Catholic high school, I support the establishment of a single publicly funded system demarcated only by whether the school is English-language or French-language.
So here's the deal. As the guide itself states fairly early on:
For Roman Catholic and French-language boards, development and implementation of equity and inclusive education policies will take place within the context of the denominational rights of Roman Catholic schools as set out in section 93 of the Constitution Act, 1867 and the Education Act, and the language rights of French language rights-holders as set out in section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Education Act. (8)
So there you have it. Legislated equity and inclusion, but only so far as the legislated ability for Catholic schools to be Catholic.
Last time I checked, the Catholic faith was far from inclusive when it came to the question of any sexuality that doesn't lead to heterosexual marriage and the subsequent and frequently repeated pitter-patter of little feet. Changing that is a matter for those within the faith and their faith leaders.
Last time I checked, particularly since it was a disastrous issue in the 2007 provincial campaign, no political party in this province is ready to do what's been done in Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador-- abolish the separate (Catholic in Ontario's case) school system.
So until one of the two things above happens, it's never going to be a surprise that a Catholic school will discriminate and promote pro-life initiatives over pro-choice ones. Duh. Also not surprising that a Catholic system would be less-than-welcoming towards any person who's not heterosexual. Again, duh.
Upset these are happening at your local Catholic school? Don't enroll. Go to a public school.
Until Catholics are ready to tackle these issues within their faith or the province is ready to move towards a single publicly funded system, these disagreements and discriminatory practices will continue because they're permitted. You can't have your cake and eat it too on this one. You can't allow a faith-based system to receive public dollars and practise its dogma in publicly built and operated spaces and then turn around and ask them to go against their beliefs.
Until that question is solved or a move to do either of the two resolutions above gains any real traction, these news items may be worth a few days' attention and then, really, not much more.