NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) — Homeschool defenders in the United States are wary of proposed legislation in Alberta, Canada, that could set a philosophical precedent for government intrusion into what parents are allowed to teach their homeschooled children.
“This is concerning to us because this is the first time we’ve seen anything like this on North American soil, where a government has actually proposed to include homeschools in a law that would constrain what parents could teach their children or to alternatively require them to teach something in a certain way,” Michael Donnelly, staff attorney for the Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Association, told Baptist Press.
At issue is section 16 of Alberta’s proposed Education Act, which states, “All courses or programs of study offered and instructional materials used in a school must reflect the diverse nature and heritage of society in Alberta, promote understanding and respect for others and honour and respect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Alberta Human Rights Act.”
In the Education Act, homeschools are considered schools, and the Human Rights Act has been used in Canada to target Christians and conservatives who believe homosexual behavior is wrong.
The U.S.-based LifeSiteNews presented Alberta Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk’s assistant director of communications with a test case regarding the proposed legislation and was told that faith-based schools and homeschooling families would not be allowed to teach that homosexual behavior is a sin.
“You can affirm the family’s ideology in your family life, you just can’t do it as part of your educational study and instruction,” Donna McColl, the education minister’s staffer, said.
Days later, after receiving a substantial number of complaints and after about 500 homeschool supporters gathered for a rally at the Alberta legislature March 5, Lukaszuk distanced himself from his spokeswoman’s comments.
“This government in no way would ever want to interfere in what families [may] discuss or not discuss in their homes,” Lukaszuk, who was present at the rally, said. “From a legal perspective … those concerns, even though real in their hearts and their minds, are not substantiated in the act.
“There is no intention to ever infringe on their rights. They do not have to change their homeschooling practices in any way,” Lukaszuk said. “Whether they’re homeschooling children or not, we as government would not step into people’s kitchen and tell them what they can or cannot discuss.”
Paul Faris, president of the Home School Legal Defense Association in Canada, said the proposed legislation should be amended to avoid misinterpretations such as McColl’s by other government officials.
“Quite frankly, I don’t care what the government’s intentions are,” Faris said, according to LifeSiteNews. “I want to know what the law says because ultimately it’s what’s written in the law that’s going to matter.
“Even if this government does have good intentions, if a different government gets in with nefarious intentions, they’ve got that law sitting there waiting for them to use.”
Patty Marler, a government liaison for the Alberta Home Education Association, wondered how the government could differentiate between home education time and family time.
“We educate our children all the time, and that’s just the way we live. It’s a lifestyle,” Marler said. “Making that distinction between the times when we’re homeschooling and when we’re just living is really hard to do.”
The HSLDA in the United States has called on its members to contact Alberta’s legislative assembly and ask them not to move the law forward, Donnelly said.
“People have sort of focused on the homosexuality aspect of this, but there is certainly much more to it than that. The biggest issue from my perspective is … there is also a free speech issue here and a line that the government in Alberta is crossing where they are attempting to in a sense seize the parents and make them government employees,” Donnelly told BP.
“They’re … essentially saying that parents who teach their children at home are just state employees teaching their children,” he said. “It’s absurd. We’re concerned about it, and we want to help the Alberta homeschoolers to defeat this very bad legislation.”
Donnelly mentioned California becoming the first state last summer to mandate the teaching of gay history in public schools, requiring social science classes to include the “role and contributions” of “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.”
“You see increasing attempts across the country by legislators — Massachusetts too — to impose teaching requirements on public schools,” Donnelly said. “From there the next step is private schools and then incorporating homeschools.
“So it certainly appears to be part of a larger plan. I don’t know that there’s any kind of conspiracy or they’re connected with one another, but there certainly seems to be an agenda to try to control what children learn from the government,” Donnelly said. “That certainly is a very serious concern. One of the things we pay attention to here is watching legislatures in all 50 states to make sure they don’t do things like this.”
Internationally, homeschoolers are not seeing a lot of positive developments, Donnelly said, though Brazil is in the early stages of considering legislation to recognize homeschooling.
“Brazil is a place where homeschoolers have had difficulties,” he said.
In Germany and Sweden in particular, homeschooling families have fled to other countries as they faced persecution including harassment, insurmountable fines and separation of families for not sending their children to government-sanctioned schools.
“I think linking what’s happened in Germany and Sweden to what’s happening in Alberta is appropriate. These are examples of governments that are trying to impose a totalitarian view on society through education by not permitting viable alternatives to parents through private schools that are truly independent and by preventing parents from teaching their children at home,” Donnelly said. “That’s what the actions of those countries represent.”
Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).