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Parental Rights affirmed in Ontario

The Ontario Court of Appeal has released a decision in a case with major implications for parental rights in education. A father in Hamilton – referred to in court document only as “E-T” – had asked the Hamilton Public School Board for advance notification when certain subjects were to be taught at his children’s public school so that he could remove those kids from classes if the content conflicted with the family’s sincerely held religious beliefs.

A lower court had turned down the request, and this week, a 3-judge panel of the Ontario Court of Appeal issued its ruling in the case. In essence, the court ruled that while the father had parental rights, the evidence in this case wasn’t strong enough to support his request.

Derek Ross is the General Counsel and Executive Director of Christian Legal Fellowship. He appeared before the court as an intervenor in support of the father, and he says the ruling is a mixed result. “(The father) agreed that the acceptance of others is a necessary virtue to teach,” but he didn’t want his children to be “indoctrinated” in the view that acceptance of others requires full endorsement of their choices.” Ross says the court ruled that in this particular case, it doesn’t appear that this actually occurred in the classroom. “There didn’t appear to be any evidence that this sort of teaching had actually transpired.”

However, Ross says the court was clear about parental rights generally. “They said ‘if there is evidence that students are being pressured to abandon their religious convictions or being taught in such a manner that undermines the parents’ ability to transmit their faith to their children, the result could very well have been a different one.’”

Ross says the court made two key findings in support of parental rights. “First, the majority (of the court) made it very clear that parents have primary authority for making decisions about the wellbeing (of) their children, and that the state’s authority is secondary to that parental right. And they also said that the authority of the state to educate children is a ‘delegated authority’, and that delegation comes from parents.” Ross says that means the court clearly affirmed the right of parents to choose homeschooling or independent schools, and that no one “has to participate in public education.”

The case may not be done yet. There’s a possibility the evidentiary ruling on the father’s specific complaint could be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

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