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“Homophobia” slur meant to bully and marginalize religious believers

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Evangelical Fellowship of Canada says
By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News

Charges of homophobia have no place in the debate about how best to stop bullying in Ontario’s publicly-funded schools, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) told the province’s Social Policy Committee holding hearings here on anti-bullying legislation May 22.

“This label has become the contemporary slur intended to silence the voices of those in our free and democratic society who might disagree with the public policy agenda of a select group of activists,” said EFC legal counsel and director of the EFC’s Centre for Faith and Public Life Don Hutchinson. “This slur is intended as an insult directed at the very nature and character of the person or organization that dares to disagree.”

“It has no place in public discourse, dialogue or debate and certainly no place in the legislatures, public squares or public schools of our province or our nation,” said Hutchinson.

Use of the term is a form of bullying, he said, noting it’s intended to silence legitimate debate, to denounce constitutionally protected religious freedom rights and marginalize religious believers from public policy discourse.

Homophobia is defined as an “extreme or irrational aversion to homosexuality and homosexual people,” according to the Oxford Dictionary, Hutchinson said. “Evangelicals do not have a fear or irrational aversion toward gays and lesbians. We do, at times, find ourselves in disagreement with the public policy positions expressed by activists from the gay community; as they at times disagree with ours.”

The EFC asserted that it opposes bullying of all kinds. Its submission charged that the drafters of Bill 13 have been distracted by a genuine concern about bullying of gay and lesbian students from addressing bullying prevention that would help all students. The EFC, a national association of evangelical Christian denominations, individual churches, para-church organizations and individuals, endorsed the “Respecting Difference” proposal of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association that would combat all bullying and create “respecting difference” clubs rather than Gay/Straight Alliances.

Though media coverage might make it seem that most students are bullied for their sexual orientation or gender identity, the EFC said, it argued objective research has shown most are bullied for “body image or appearance; school grades or marks; and cultural background and race.”

The EFC produced a report: “By the Numbers: Rates and Risk Factors for Bullying---a Brief Examination of Canadian Bullying Statistics” that it said make a better basis for developing public policy.

The EFC urged the Ontario legislature to adopt Bill 14, a Progressive Conservative private member’s bill, which the EFC said is a “better-drafted” anti-bullying bill.

The government’s Bill 13 is “fraught with legal problems” that could tie the province up in tax-funded litigation, the EFC warned.

The EFC also defended the constitutional right of “constitutionally assured religious schools in Ontario.”

“While these schools are often referred to as publicly funded, they are in fact funded by decision of Ontario taxpayers in accordance with constitutional principles and in a manner that neither compromises public schools nor removes funds from the public purse that would be used for another purpose,” the EFC said. “The Catholic or Separate school system’s religious freedom is constitutionally guaranteed, deserving of legal and legislative respect . . .”

If Bill 13 is adopted, the EFC urged that the bullying definition be amended “to remove ambiguous language that may capture behaviors that are not bullying behaviors or are expressions protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

It urged the government to remove Section 9 of the Bill that identifies four groups that will receive board-endorsed special status: gender equity; people with disabilities; anti-racism; and gay-straight alliances.

“These categories to not reflect the data on bullying in Canada in terms of students most often targeted for bullying behaviors.”

“This selectivity communicates to Ontario students that some students are receiving preferential treatment or those students’ suffering is more valid than the suffering of others,” the EFC’s submission said.

The EFC also asks for the removal of two proposed amendments to the Education Act in section 7 of the Bill that would restrict community access to school facilities by groups now renting them for worship, prayer or community activities.

The Social Policy Committee also heard from the Coalition for Parental Rights in Education; the City of Ottawa, the Catholic Women’s League, the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens; the African Canadian Legal Clinic; the Ontario English Catholic Teacher’s Association; Kids Help Phone; the Ontario Student Trees’ Association; and a number of individuals, including Fr. Tim Lau, a psychiatrist and Dr. Rene Leive, a family doctor.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 May 2012 08:40  

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