Ottawa’s Roman Catholic school board (OCSB) provided buses to allow its students could attend the March for Life, a massive pro-life/anti-abortion* protest that converged on Parliament Hill yesterday. It would seem easy to chalk this up to religious schools attend political-religious rally, but as much as these are religious schools, we must remember they are also public schools.
The OCSB is publically-funded and as a publically-funded institution, it is risible to claim that it is private entity merely making private religious-based decisions. Our courts have already determined that these school, since they are by their nature public, cannot enforce religious observation on their students. It is equally valid to object to public funds going to such a religious endeavour (that does not fall within their mandate as a school).
And this is not a situation of a school board supporting multiple political viewpoints. Ontario’s Roman Catholic school boards object to anti-bullying school groups, and they have launched a campaign to prevent teachers from participating in pride parades. It would be laughable to suggest that they would pay for buses to take kids to a pro-choice rally.
Roman Catholics are the only religious group to be blessed with publically-funded religious schools, and they do what they can to maintain that privileged status. All other religious schools are private and are forced to find funding through tuition, donations and other fundraising schemes. In 2007, the Ontario Progressive Conservatives attempted to address this imbalance by extending some public funding to all religious institutions. The established school board opposed it, and the Liberals presented a thinly-veiled racist campaign against it. There was no support for the Tory plan, and they eventually relented.
So here we are. We have a formal hierarchy for religious instruction. Roman Catholics get theirs for free (using tax dollars), and the rest of us have to pay for our own (and theirs, through tax dollars). Currently, the Green Party is the only Ontario political party proposing to do away with this system. Unfortunately, they don’t have a whole lot of traction.
This should be a bigger deal than it is.
*I’m not particularly concerned about the labeling. I’ll let others battle that out.