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Religious Voices Neglected in BC’s Diversity & Social Justice Guide for K-12 Teachers *
Is the British Columbia government promoting the concept that religious beliefs should be restricted from public expression?

"Making Space, Giving Voice" is the British Columbia Ministry of Education’s recently presented “developmental and response draft” of a guide for teaching the concepts of diversity and social justice in the classroom from kindergarten to graduation. This is a good first attempt that, unfortunately, falls short of the mark in several ways.

… the guide then begins to provide direction and examples for classroom teachers that largely relegate “religion” to “mythology” …

Even a cursory reading of the document provides evidence of the failure to include diverse representation in the development of the guide, particularly – from the interest of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada’s (EFC) constituency – representation from the religious community.

The draft guide correctly addresses the fact that “social justice advocates for the full participation of all people, as well as for their basic legal, civil and human rights.” It also includes “religious beliefs” in the list of “differences” that students are to be made aware of and understand exist within society.

Unfortunately, the guide then begins to provide direction and examples for classroom teachers that largely relegate “religion” to “mythology,” the category it is paired with at one point in the grade 12 Comparative Civilizations course. This is one indication of an anti-religious bias evident throughout the draft document.

External resources appended to the document include over 100 relief and development agencies and human rights related organizations websites but noticeably absent are religious organizations (other than the Canadian Jewish Congress and Deepak Chopra’s Alliance for a New Humanity), particularly those that are engaged on the front lines of social justice issues, i.e. relief and development and human rights. For example: World Vision Canada (Canada’s largest relief and development agency); Voice of the Martyrs Canada (monitoring persecution of Christians worldwide); or the EFC (engaging Parliament and the courts on biblical principles relating to religious freedom in Canada and internationally), to name just a few.

The guide also confuses “respect for diversity” with indoctrination in regard to sexual orientation and gender identification issues, illustrations of which are peppered throughout.

Materials identified in the guide as “approved by the Ministry of Education” leave instruction on the differences that arise at puberty to grade 5 but begin teaching on same-gender attraction with kindergarten materials.

The glossary of terms provided in the guide includes gender identity, heterosexism, homophobia, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) and sexual orientation among only 20 terms it defines but excludes any reference to religion or anti-religious expression. The glossary also fails to offer definitions for significant human rights related terms such as disability, accommodation, ethnicity, ancestry, etc.

The bias in drafting might have been overcome through a strong consultative process; something which the Ministry has known for some time is readily available to it. Instead, the Ministry decided to post the document on their website without notifying those on the long list of parties they originally agreed to consult in the process of curriculum development in the areas of “social justice” and accommodating “diversity.” Those on the Ministry’s list are parents and organizations selected by parents, and agreed to by the Ministry, to assist by providing input into curriculum development.

The Ministry did contact individuals and organizations for consultation on the “Social Justice 12” draft curriculum – curriculum for a single grade 12 course already being taught in pilot classes – which is open for comment from August 1 to December 10, 2007. However, parents were left to their own devices in regard to the K-12 teacher’s guide which is only open for comment from October 1 to November 1, 2007 with Making Space, Giving Voice to be applied to all curriculum and subjects taught from Kindergarten to grade 12.

Intentional or not, this consultation process leaves one with the suspicion that the Ministry of Education – acting on behalf of the government of British Columbia – is promoting the concept that religious beliefs should be restricted from public expression. The notion that religious beliefs should be restricted to the private sphere is where society once confined anti-racism and the issue of sexual orientation before the biblical principles of equality between all people and discrimination against none were engrafted into quasi-constitutional (human rights codes) and constitutional (the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms) legislation across the country. However, human rights legislation, such as the BC Human Rights Code and the Charter, is intended to address a broad spectrum of discrimination, which is also the stated purpose of the Making Space, Giving Voice guide, including discrimination based on religious beliefs. Therefore, special care should have been taken to ensure this was done in the consultation.

It would appear that the Ministry is “Making Space,” based on contemporary political correctness, for select groups who have encountered discrimination. This space is being made by moving aside other groups identified in the Human Rights Code and the Charter. The instruction to teachers is that they should be “Giving Voice” to the selected groups, apparently at the expense of silencing the voices of those not considered to be among the chosen. The Ministry of Education – the Government of British Columbia – must do better.

The EFC encourages parents to review and comment on Making Space, Giving Voice. The response form can be found by scrolling to the bottom of the Ministry’s Integrated Resource Package (IRP) Public Review and Feedback page. You are also encouraged to write to the Minister of Education requesting an extension of the response period.

*The B.C. Ministry of Education has extended the response date to Nov. 15, 2007 (posted Oct. 31, 2007)

Don Hutchinson is General Legal Counsel for The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.




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