Hamilton, Ontario, October 31, 2011
The head of a local coalition of Orthodox churches is accusing the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board of blocking his group’s participation in a review of religious accommodation and bullying policies, reports the Hamilton Community News, published on The Hamilton Speculator.
There are nine Orthodox Churches in Hamilton, Ontario, and around 20,000 Orthodox Christians. Ontario has historically been home to a large number of Ukrainians of the Orthodox faith.
Father Geoffrey Korz, general secretary of the Pan-Orthodox Association of Greater Hamilton, said his group wasn’t invited to sit on the board’s interfaith advisory committee studying the policies and is being given limited access to trustees.
He said board chair Judith Bishop has only agreed to let his group make a presentation to either trustees’ policy subcommittee or the bigger committee of the whole, but not both.
“This is just a really unfortunate political move on the part of the board,” said Korz, whose group’s members have been vocal critics of the board’s equity policies on sexual orientation.
“Although we might not agree with a number of things the board has done, we would like to participate constructively so that this can be brought to some amiable conclusion, but the board really isn’t interested.”
Korz said a draft bullying policy pays “lip service” to anti-religious bullying when compared to other forms of bullying, like that targeting gays and lesbians.
He said he’s concerned the interim religious accommodation policy does the same thing by not allowing students to express traditional religious views against same-sex relationships.
“If we really want to have an open discussion, then all those views have to come to the table,” Korz said.
Bishop said the board isn’t trying to thwart Korz’s group from making presentations to trustees, but wants to avoid duplication.
She said his group can always make a presentation on one policy to the subcommittee and speak to the committee of the whole on the other, or have two delegations.
“This is not stopping him from making delegations,” she said. “We don’t want to hear the same thing twice.”
Bishop said the interfaith advisory committee is made up of mainstream protestant churches but takes criticism of its composition “very seriously” and is reviewing its membership.
Bishop said the board is always willing to hear concerns about the equity policy, even if the sexual orientation component has gone through two rounds of public debate.
An article from LifeSiteNews.com from June 23, 2011, Fr. Korz voiced the concern that, “Students will have no recourse when the curriculum attacks their faith. Parents lose their right to pull their kids out of class when something directly opposes their beliefs. People in Canada reject this sort of thing, and so should the school board.”
The group noted that much of the board’s policy has been designed with the intent to combat insults and bullying against homosexual students, but protest the fact that people of faith are not given the same treatment.
“Gay and lesbian groups are invited to sponsor seminars in schools, to put up posters for their cause, and their leaders are invited to help form school policy,” said Fr. Korz. “Why are our school trustees shutting the door to including people of faith in the same way – people who have experienced real, life-and- death persecution around the world?”