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Court rules out gay book ban for kindergarten

Ottawa, Dec. 21 (Reuters): The book One Dad, Two Dads, Brown Dad, Blue Dads and others with gay themes cannot be banned from kindergarten classrooms by a Canadian school board on religious grounds, Canada’s Supreme Court has ruled.

A British Columbia school board tried to ban such books after parents complained the works offended their religious views. But the court — in a decision cheered by gay rights activists — said religious views could not be used to squelch the values of other groups.

“Religion is an integral aspect of people’s lives, and cannot be left at the (school) boardroom door,” chief justice Beverley McLachlin wrote for the 7-2 majority. “What secularism does rule out, however, is any attempt to use the religious views of one part of the community to exclude from consideration the values of other members of the community.”

Her argument hinged on the province’s School Act requiring public schools to operate on “strictly secular and non-sectarian principles”.

Besides the question of religious freedom, the Surrey School Board had also argued that five- and six-year-olds were too young to be exposed to questions of sexuality. However, McLachlin rejected this, saying: “Tolerance is always age-appropriate.”

The court’s ruling does not require the suburban Vancouver school board to put the books into classrooms, but requires board members to vote again on whether to admit them using the new criteria.

Charles Gonthier, writing for the minority, argued that the books did more than advocate tolerance, but sent the moral message that all relationships were morally equivalent. He said Canadians should not be banned from expressing moral disapproval of homosexual behaviour. “It is a feeble notion of pluralism that transforms ‘tolerance’ into ‘mandated approval or acceptance’,” he wrote.

The case was originally brought by a gay kindergarten teacher, James Chamberlain, who wanted to put the books on an approved list for kindergarten and first grade students.

The school board represents an ethnically and religiously diverse population, with large numbers of Catholics and Protestants, the biggest Muslim community in the province, as well as Sikhs and Hindus. Parents from many of these groups had opposed the books.

“There’s no wriggle room left for the Surrey School Board,” John Fisher, executive director of the gay lobby group Egale, said in the foyer of the Supreme Court building after scanning the decision. “It couldn’t be any more unequivocal.”

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