Canada Dec. 1, 2016

Greek Orthodox father loses religious freedom and parental rights case

By B.C. Catholic Staff

Man wanted to protect his two children from indoctrination
By Deborah Gyapong

An Orthodox Christian father has lost a religious freedom and parental rights case before the Ontario Superior Court.

On Nov. 23, Ontario Superior Court Justice Robert B. Reid denied Steve Tourloukis's request for a declaration of parental authority in education. He also refused his request that the Hamilton-Wentworth School Board be directed to accommodate his religious beliefs.

Constitutional lawyer Albertos Polizogopoulos, who represented Tourloukis, declined to comment, as he and his client are reviewing the court decision.

Tourloukis, a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, had requested in 2010 the Board inform him when teachings contrary to his religious beliefs were to be taught so he could remove his two children from class. Among the teachings he listed as objectionable were: moral relativism, occult beliefs and practices, sex education, portrayals of "unnatural/unhealthy" sexual behaviours, portrayals of homosexual conduct and transgenderism, birth control, and the promotion of abortion or euthanasia.

The court action began in 2012 and the hearing took place in June 2016.

While Justice Reid agreed Tourloukis's beliefs are sincerely held and his Charter rights to religious freedom are impinged, he ruled the school board had properly balanced Charter rights with its other legislative obligations to promote safety, inclusivity, equality, and tolerance in a multicultural society.

"The context of the Board's decision not to provide the requested accommodation is, in part, the need for religious neutrality and tolerance in a public institution," the justice wrote. "It must respect religious difference and attempt not to interfere with the beliefs or practices of any religious group while recognizing there are 103 schools within its jurisdiction." He noted there are many differing religious and non-religious beliefs among the thousands of students who attend the schools.

"Accommodation by non-attendance, which is sought by the applicant, would allow him to isolate his children from aspects of the curriculum that in his religious belief would amount to 'false teachings.' However, isolation is antithetical to the competing legislative mandate and Charter values favouring inclusivity, equality, and multiculturalism," Justice Reid wrote.

Justice Reid found the Board's decision "reasonable," "prudent," and "a practical response."

The judge noted the Teacher's Federation submitted that "the curriculum has so fully integrated the requirements for gender equity, antiracism, respect for people with disabilities and respect for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities that it would be impractical if not impossible to advise the applicant in advance when any of the positions that he considers objectionable were to be taught."

The Federation said such an accommodation would create an "undue burden" on teachers.

Justice Reid pointed out Tourloukis had other alternatives in pursuing his religious freedom than sending his children to public schools. "That system, by definition, must provide education to the broadest possible cross-section of the population."

"Independent schools, whether faith-based or otherwise, may be available as is, of course, the option of homeschooling," he wrote. "To the extent that the concern about 'false teachings' outweighs other advantages of the public school system, the applicant may need to seek such other alternatives."

Justice Reid said "some nuance" is required on the matter of parental rights. "A black-and white declaration of parental authority in favour of the applicant would, in my view, oversimplify the common law principles with which neither party disagrees."

The Parental Rights in Education Defence Fund help raise money to mount Tourloukis's court battle.

"If parents do not beat back this government incursion against parent rights, it will usher in an era of persecution, against people of faith, like never seen before in Canada," the Fund's website says. "The Parental Rights in Education Defence Fund has been created to help parents fight back, in the courts. The constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is on our side."

The Fund is not only keeping an eye on Ontario, but other provinces, such as Quebec and its mandatory Ethics and Religious Culture program that has been the subject of two Supreme Court of Canada decisions, one of them regarding Loyola High School, a private Catholic school.

"A tipping point has been reached in Canada," the Fund's website says. "Without immediate intervention, parental rights to direct the moral education of their own children will be lost in several respects."

"The push to eradicate parental rights is so aggressive that we believe seeking remedy from elected officials, while important, will not succeed by itself as a strategy. The only viable way to pull Canada back from this tipping point is for parents and other stakeholders to fight back in the courts. That means lawsuits."