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Canadian Appeal Court hears parental rights case concerning sex education; Freedom of religion and rights of parents to direct upbringing of children at stake

TORONTO – Does Canada grant parents their fundamental right to direct the education of their children? Last week on 22 November, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled on a major case concerning this question. The father of an elementary school student asked to be notified in advance about classes that might oppose the family’s sincerely held beliefs.

Although the Court dismissed the appeal for evidentiary reasons, a majority of the judges left open the possibility for a future legal challenge and emphasized the importance of parental rights in education. Among many positive affirmations of parental rights, Judge Lauwers stated in the ruling: “[T]he right of parents to care for their children and make decisions for their well-being, including decisions about education, is primary, and the state’s authority is secondary to that parental right.”

Reacting to the ruling, Executive Director of the Christian Legal Fellowship, Derek Ross, said: “The decision provides a strong reaffirmation that parents, not the state, have the primary authority to make decisions for their children’s well-being and education. The majority has signalled to public schools that they must be careful not to undermine a student’s beliefs or pressure them to embrace moral viewpoints or choices they disagree with. Acceptance of others is an important virtue to be encouraged, but cannot be interpreted as a demand to approve of all practices or beliefs.”

Refusal to accommodate family’s beliefs

ADF International allied lawyers Derek Ross and Deina Warren intervened in the case of E.T. v Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board on behalf of the Christian Legal Fellowship. The appellant father, E.T., was represented by ADF International allied lawyer Albertos Polizogopoulos. The school refused to notify the parents about the content of upcoming classes that might contradict their religious beliefs, arguing that participation by all at all times was necessary to encourage a “positive school climate.” All three judges of the Court of Appeal concluded that there was insufficient evidence that E.T.’s children were actually exposed to teachings or activities that violated their family’s religious beliefs. However, the judges left the door open to future legal challenge, if there was more evidence of “undermining a parent’s ability to transmit religious faith.”

 “International law recognizes the fundamental right of parents to choose the upbringing and education of their children. We’re pleased with the strong endorsement of this right in the Canadian Appeal Court’s ruling, particularly the acknowledgement that the authority of the state to educate children is a delegated authority,” said Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF International.  



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