Canada, which celebrates its 150th anniversary as a nation this year, is a unique place religion-wise, as my colleague Richard Ostling pointed out recently.
Despite being lampooned by the fictional McKenzie Brothers duo, Canadians are uniformly polite and are among the smartest people around. Any country that can produce literary titans such as Robertson Davies and Alice Munro is no slouch in the scholarship department.
Important trends that have accelerated in recent years are Canada's increased secularization and the acceptance of same-sex marriage. One of the commemorative postage stamps released for the sesquicentennial by Canada Post celebrates the passage of that nation's Civil Marriage Act as a national milestone.
Given those trends, the headlines coming out of the province of Alberta shouldn't be as jarring as they come across -- or should they?
Judge for yourself. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation picked up a Canadian Press news agency story with this blunt headline: "Alberta Christian school worried school division could ban Bible verses." There are several church-state holes in this story (think religious liberty issues, without the scare quotes), which we will be getting to shortly.
Let's dive in at the beginning. This excerpt is long, but necessary. Please read this closely and try to spot what I believe is a revealing typo:
A Christian school southeast of Edmonton says it fears the school division is moving to censor what parts of the Bible can be taught.
Several Bible verses were to be included in a handbook for students at the Cornerstone Christian Academy in Kingman, Alta.
Trustees from the Battle River School Division say they believe the verses might contravene Alberta's human rights code. Spokeswoman Diane Hutchinson said the school division has an obligation to follow the provincial school act and human rights legislation. The board plans to discuss the verses at a meeting on Thursday.
Deanna Margel, board chairwoman of the Cornerstone Christian Academy Society, told CHED radio the school fears the division wants to limit what Bible verses the school can teach generally. ...
One reference, from 1 Corinthians, suggests that neither "fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate ... shall inherit the kingdom of God."
Another verse from Galations refers to adultery, fornication, uncleanness and lasciviousness.
Now, I know that folks in Canada have a funny accent and write out "honour" instead of "honor" and stuff like that. But do they really rename books of the New Testament -- as in "Galations," instead of Galatians, don't'cha know -- up north? Or are the reporters and editors at both Canadian Press and the CBC just tone deaf or biblically illiterate?
Typos aside there are other journalism issues at play here, which the CP/CBC account and other reports pass by.
One question is the exact nature of the relationship between the school, which is operated by a church, and the school district. Apparently, from what I read at justlanded.com, a website for newcomers to Canada, "State-funded provincial schools are called public or separate schools (which are Roman Catholic public schools), and although anyone can attend either, they’re generally split along religious denomination lines."
Cornerstone Christian School is not a Roman Catholic school, but it has a faith-based curriculum and Christian doctrinal standards, the latter causing some concern for the local school board, known as the Battle River School Division.
According to Canadian website Global News:
The BRSD’s Diane Hutchinson said trustees think the verses might contravene Alberta’s human rights legislation.
“As a school system, we have an obligation: we need to follow the School Act and human rights legislation, ” Hutchinson said on Tuesday. “As a public school division, we have that obligation and it is our obligation to ensure that our schools are also compliant.”
Whatever the relationship between this school board and the Christian school, I highly doubt the board's mandate includes taking a pair of scissors to the Good Book and excising verses too strong for some readers. Perhaps it would help to actually quote the statute?
The last time the concept of Bible verses-as-human-rights-violations came up, it didn't end well for the prosecution: A 1997 newspaper ad in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix newspaper in neighboring Saskatchewan province led to a 2002 Queen's Bench court ruling saying quoting verses opposing homosexuality in the ad was "hate speech." Four years later, the Court of Appeal for Saskatchewan reversed that ruling.
If it's acceptable to make reference to scriptures opposing homosexual behavior in a newspaper ad, how is it unacceptable for a Christian school to quote and teach those verses in Bible classes its classrooms?
Neither the CP/CBC story nor the Global News account bring that up.
Instead, a subsequent CBC story includes a complaint from BRSD head Lori Skori about how the Christians dared to bring everything out into the open:
"We are disappointed by the way in which the [Cornerstone] society has turned our discussion into a public spectacle," said Skori.
"We are now at the centre of a firestorm as a result of information distributed without our knowledge, by the Cornerstone Christian School Society board and their partner in this process, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms," she said.
"Hate mail is flowing, misinformation and fear-mongering are widespread. The Cornerstone society has compromised our reputation, risked our safety and broken our trust."
Beg pardon? The school district starts suggesting "thou shalt not" teach the Bible to a local Christian academy and they're supposed to keep quiet about it? Why did no reporter -- so far as the news accounts indicated -- ask Skori that question?
The legal matter remains unsettled, and the Christian school may lose its relationship with the district and whatever that may entail. But I truly wonder if Canada -- so proud of its diversity -- may be losing something more should provinces and local school boards win the right to censor religious teachings in faith-based schools, while pros in the mainstream media don't even bat an eye.
Perhaps when it comes to Christians, all those Canadian reporters and editors are just too darned polite.
Note: A related story in Canada's National Post newspaper was suggested to GetReligion by a reader, but the piece was offline when this blog post was written.
Images of Cornerstone Christian Academy sign and BRSD chair Skori are screen captures from Global News video.