Territorial law trumps religious teachings at all Yukon Schools, including Vanier Catholic Secondary.
That’s the word from Education Minister Scott Kent today. Kent issued an open letter to Bishop Gary Gordon addressing concerns with the Roman Catholic Church’s teachings on homosexuality. Those teachings run afoul of the Education Department’s sexual orientation and gender identity policy.
The Church’s teachings may also contravene the Canadian Human Rights Act and Charter of Rights and Freedoms, according to letter.
Today Kent said, in no uncertain terms, that because Vanier is a publicly funded school, the bishop must get in line with territorial policy.
“Those parts of the Episcopal Corporation’s policy that are inconsistent with and do not meet the requirements of existing laws and policies cannot have application in any publicly supported schools in the Yukon, and that also of course includes religious instructional material and curriculum in the Catholic separate schools,” Kent said in an interview.
Controversy arose earlier this month over a document written by the bishop that outlines the church’s stance on homosexuality, as well as specifics about how Vanier teachers should handle the subject.
It calls homosexual urges a “disorder” and labels homosexual acts an “intrinsic moral evil.” In an interview with the News earlier this month, Gordon said that Vanier teachers are also discouraged from using words like “gay,” and “lesbian,” and that a Gay-Straight Alliance isn’t allowed at the school.
The document was freely available on Vanier’s website until Kent ordered it taken down.
Gordon, however, told CBC that even though the document was no longer on Vanier’s website, it would continue to guide religious teachings at the school.
That’s not good enough, Kent said, adding that government lawyers also warned the teachings may violate Canadian law.
“There is some concern over the teachings with regard to homosexuality. That is the one concern that legal counsel in government has identified may be in contradiction to the Human Rights Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” Kent said.
Kent did defend the Catholic Church’s right to a publicly funded separate school system, and its right to teach Catholic religion and morality. It just has to meet the same requirements as all other Yukon public schools.
“I’m certainly not making it my business to tell people what they should believe. It’s about what happens in our public institutions, and ensuring that every student, no matter what school they go to, feels safe and welcome and protected and respected,” Kent said.
Kent said he has directed his deputy minister, Valerie Royle, and other department staff to work with the bishop and the Vanier school community to develop a policy that complies with the territory’s laws and policies.
He couldn’t say whether the school will need to allow a Gay-Straight Alliance, saying only that those details will be worked out in consultation with the school community.
Neither Gordon nor Vanier principal Ed Frison returned calls for comment by press time.
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