The Supreme Court of Canada has considered a school board’s decision to not approve books depicting families with same-sex parents for use as a supplementary learning resource in the family life curriculum for kindergarten and grade 1 students.
A majority of the Court concluded that the school board’s decision to not approve the books was unreasonable as the board had not properly applied the criteria in Section 76 of the School Act. Section 76 stipulates that schools must be conducted according to strictly secular and non-sectarian principles. The Court ruled that the School Act requires school boards to respect the diversity of religious and moral views in the community, and while a school board is entitled to respect the religious views of the community, it may not rely on religious objections as a means of defeating the views of a minority group who support a lawful alternative lifestyle.
In reaching this conclusion, Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin remarked: “The Act‘s requirement of strict secularism means that the board must conduct its deliberations on all matters, including the approval of supplementary resources, in a manner that respects the views of all members of the school community. It cannot prefer the religious views of some people in its district to the views of other segments of the community. Nor can it appeal to views that deny the equal validity of the lawful lifestyles of some in the school community. The board must act in a way that promotes respect and tolerance for all the diverse groups that it represents.”
The question of whether the books should be approved as supplementary resource material was referred back to the school board to be reconsidered in accordance with the criteria set out in the board’s regulations, the curriculum guidelines, and the guiding principles of tolerance and secularism contained in the School Act.