Denying gay students the right to join a club with heterosexual students under the name gay-straight alliance is deeply harmful to them. That is what Ontario’s publicly funded Roman Catholic schools insist on doing. They would deny the very young people at risk of bullying the right to send out an invitation to a club under their own name. They would impose on the historic victims of teen bullying a continued isolation.
It is in this context that Ontario has amended its new anti-bullying law to require that all schools, including Catholic ones, allow gay-straight alliances under that express name, if the students so wish. Constitutional rights do not stop at the Catholic schoolhouse door, especially where the group is young and vulnerable, and needs the protection.
Thomas Cardinal Collins, the Archbishop of Toronto, calls that amended law an attack on religious freedom. The Archbishop has called on members of all religious faiths to stand up against this perceived attack.
“If it happens to us, it can happen to you, on this and other issues,” he wrote in a missive posted on a church website. “When religious freedom becomes a second-class right, you also will eventually be affected.”
Let’s put this in perspective. All that’s being asked is that a vulnerable group of youths be able to meet under the name that makes them vulnerable. The province is trying to live up to the spirit of its anti-bullying law, which in its first version, introduced last fall, would have permitted schools to bar the name gay-straight alliance – a kind of “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of non-acceptance.
This is no mere abstract debate. It’s about helping gay teenagers, or the children of gay parents, build protective bridges for themselves in a world from which they have often felt cast out. Leaving out one group of victims defeats the law’s purpose. And Ontario has an overriding interest in protecting all young people.
Resolving the tension between the Catholic worldview and modern constitutional rights means something has to give on one side or the other. The state has a right, and perhaps even a duty, to insist that public money not be put toward discriminatory uses.