Anti-bullying bill creates contention

A recent provincial bill, entitled “The Public Schools Amendment Act,” has several private and faith-based schools arguing that a clause touching on gay-straight alliances (GSA) infringes on their religious rights.

A crowd of 1,000 gathered at Steinbach Christian High School on Feb. 24 to discuss and pray about the impending Bill 18, an anti-bullying legislation.

Scott Wiebe, principal of Steinbach Christian High School, which receives half of their funding from taxpayers, argued that they should have the liberty to determine which student groups are permissible in accordance with the school’s religious doctrine.

“Our receiving of funds from the government should not impact our freedom of religion. We don’t trade our charter rights for funding,” he said to the CBC.

A LGBTT* student at Steinbach Regional Secondary School, which is not a faith-based school, has attempted to form a GSA with permission from the administration. Evan Wiens has been prohibited, however, from advertising the student group through posters.

“I find that the administration is a bit more intolerant in a sense because they need to worry about community values,” explained Wiens to the CBC.

During the interview, Wiens experienced multiple instances of bullying from other students passing by.

The Manitoban spoke with Minister of Education Nancy Allan, who said that the bill was formed in response to the 2012 suicide of B.C. teenager Amanda Todd.

Allan explained that the legislation does not require mandatory GSAs to be formed in every Manitoba school. It does, however, require any student group formed to work against issues such as homophobia, sexism, and racism to be supported by school administration.

Bill 18 also enforces a policy that makes it obligatory for any adult who witnesses bullying in the school to report it to the principal, who then has the discretion to determine appropriate action.

The legislation does not yet address the possibility of a principal not adequately addressing homophobic bullying due to religious convictions.

Allan said that she has received thousands of emails regarding this bill. Many have vehemently supported it, while others have voiced their concerns towards the act.

“We are having a very good dialogue right now with all school divisions and communities about this legislation. So at the end of the day, we are hopeful that all schools will be supportive of the legislation.”

The bill is largely predicted to come into effect, as Allan said she is confident that the legislation will be moving forward.

“Bill 18 introduces new measures to protect students from cyberbullying and to ensure that all students feel safe and respected in the school, and I think that is very important to students and to young people and, quite frankly, I think it’s important to our economy that we make sure that students reach their potential and participate in society.”

Despite Steinbach Christian High School’s contention over the bill, Hanover School Division has ensured Allan that they will abide by the legislation’s guidelines, including allowing for the creation of GSAs.

“We support all our students – we want a safe learning environment for them. We will work with our students – if there are students who want to form a GSA, we will support them and we will accommodate them,” said Hanover school board chairman Randy Hildebrand.

Maylanne Maybee, principal of the Centre for Christian Studies, a theological institute that welcomes individuals of all sexual orientations, explained that many Christians believe that homosexuality is morally wrong. She also attributed many faith-based schools’ contention over Bill 18 to possible phobia, which she defined as “the fear of what is not known, or understood, or familiar.”

“The claim is that [the obligation to support GSAs] goes against their religion. Since they call themselves Christian and so do we, there are obviously big differences in how we understand our religion,” said Maybee.

“It’s hard to imagine how an adolescent struggling with sexual identity or orientation would feel loved or protected from being ostracized and isolated in a school that says that supporting GSAs are against their faith. I think a person’s right to that kind of protection trumps religious rights,” she continued.

Jay Rahn, coordinator of the U of M Rainbow Pride Mosaic, argued that the amendment is critical for Manitoba students who may need someone to listen to and support them.

“Coming out is hard. Keeping it inside is hard [ . . . ] Government concurrence in this endeavor is so very important and I like knowing that bullying will be that much more challenged when our province’s students are being bullied and oppressed.”

Rahn personally identified with this legislation, as she attended a faith-based school while coming out. Describing it as the biggest struggle she faced, Rahn claimed that she experienced discrimination in her school, which taught that homosexuality was a sin.

“Bill 18 is an issue of human rights, not religious rights. Anyone still has the freedom to hold their own personal religious beliefs [ . . . ] But when 64 per cent of LGBT Canadian students feel unsafe when attending school [ . . . ] that, to me, is a sure sign that it’s time to protect our school’s students.”

A website has been created, entitled “protect our schools,” that allows concerned citizens to send an email to voice their apprehension over the bill.

“The Manitoba government should look for democratic and inclusive ways to combat bullying. Forcing public and faith based independent schools to act against their beliefs and their community values is not the way to combat bullying,” says the website.

Despite the controversy, Rahn remains optimistic about Bill 18.

“As long as we’re using the term “faith-based” [ . . . ] I have faith that the LBGT and allied communities will effectively work together to promote awareness and action against bullying and discrimination, until our schools are a safe and positive place to learn and grow. Together. Isn’t life all about having faith anyways?”

6 Comments on "Anti-bullying bill creates contention"

  1. Ken McAllister | March 5, 2013 at 9:18 am |

    I love all people; however, I believe that sex outside of marriage is wrong. But that doesn’t make me a hateful person or a bully. Many independent schools in Manitoba teach a variety of values. That doesn’t mean that they endorse bullying any more than a homosexual group supports bullying or silencing those who follow the teachings of Jesus Christ.

    I also hate violence, and force (including government force) is a form of violence.

    That is why forcing independent schools to allow the “Gay-Straight Alliance” to promote its activities in an independent school is wrong. It would be equally wrong for our government to force all homosexual gatherings to allow someone to come in and promote abstinence until marriage.

    In other words, my opposition to Bill 18 is not because I am full of hate and support bullying. I am opposed to Bill 18, because I love freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, and freedom to agree to disagree.

    We need to replace Bill 18 with new legislation that will protect people of ALL sexual orientations and ALL systems of belief from bullying. A new Bill should be introduced that would protect all children from bullying, clearly define bullying, have measures to deal with bullies, provide information for parents, and not interfere with freedom of religion rights.

    • Ken, being gay is an identity, not an activity. That’s why it’s wrong for you to label it the way you do. It’s like being born with blue eyes or an intolerance for dairy. For you to compare someone’s sexual identity with *behaviours* you find immoral is like me comparing your brown hair with people who steal. It’s misinformed.

      The government and legal system “forces” the schools to follow all the laws of the land, not just this one. It isn’t bullying, it’s how society works.

      • @Cheri Frazer: Mr. McAllister did not refer to being gay as an activity. His comment is in reference specifically to the formation of GSA’s – the group, and it’s activities in faith-based schools. Your further commentary comparing eye colour and food intolerance, hair colour and stealing add interesting dramatic emphasis but you misunderstand the point.

        You call him misinformed? To the contrary, I find Ken McAllister’s comment one of the most informed, on point, fair and valid comments from most of the comments I have read on various boards relating to Bill 18.

        His very last paragraph sums it up perfectly. Re-read that and try to understand where he (and other like-minded individuals) are coming from.

  2. Of all the articles written on this subject lately, this one has by far the best balance of opinions and the clearest detail. And how wonderful to hear such positive comments from the Centre for Christian Studies!

    A few of us from the Humanists, Atheists, and Agnostics of Manitoba (HAAM) attended the meeting in Steinbach hoping to voice an opinion, but were told that opinions were not welcome. A full write-up of our visit will be available on our site once the February newsletter issue is posted.

  3. Thank you for this well written article.
    As a committed Christian and a mother, I fully support this new bill.
    Ken McAllister, can you imagine one of your children struggling with the issue of coming to terms with being LGBTT? Having no one to talk to about it? Feeling ostracized? Terrified of what friends and family will think of them? Fear of encountering bullying? I truly believe what you and your allies are feeling is fear. Fear of the unknown. I know, I have been there. But, it’s okay, it really is. God loves each and every one of us. As followers of Christ, it is our responsibility to embrace and accept all people for who they really are. Not to judge and scorn and make ourselves feel superior to others. All of us are on equal ground.
    If you take this issue out of the context of sin and into the context of creation, I believe it will help put this in a different perspective for you.

  4. I totally agree with Ken. Private Christian schools shouldn’t be forced to allow clubs or groups that go against their creeds or believe systems. This totally infringes on their religious freedoms. I hope that this bill doesn’t pass! It has nothing to do with bullying, either. The Government is bullying the private Christian schools! Wake up, people.

    How far will society go, to the point that one day there will be no private schools. Why would parents pay extra money if their morals, values and belief systems aren’t adding up to theirs ar home. I think we’ll end up seeing a lot more
    children being homeschooled. This new bill makes me both angry and sad.

    I fear that as Christians, we’re letting our faith and values become so compromised that we lose our backbones. And the naysayers are trying to twist things to make those opposed to this bill look like they’re the bad guys. Open your eyes to see what is really going on here. I’m against bullying, however I think that this bill needs to be amended to protect the kids who are at risk, but at the same time protecting our religious freedoms in the private schools.

    And that’s my two cents worth.

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