|Legislative Assembly of Ontario|
My name is Steve Tourloukis. I am a dentist, a husband and a father of two. My children attend an elementary school within the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, and my wife is a teacher within that same school board. I am also a committed Christian. My family and I are faithful members of our Greek-Orthodox Church.
As committed Christians, my family and I have sincerely held religious beliefs, which guide our views on certain issues, such as marriage, family and human sexuality. As such, it is important for my children to be taught about these issues from a Christian perspective. As a Christian, I hold the sincere religious belief that I am required, by God and the Greek Orthodox Church, to raise my children according to biblical principles and the tenets of the Christian faith.
As my children’s primary caregiver and guardian, I must ensure that my children abstain from certain activities and behaviors and those activities may include engaging in classes or lessons, which promote or encourage views that are contrary to our faith.
In the spring of 2010, I attended a meeting at the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board’s head office where the board’s Equity Policy, as well as some of the teaching materials to be used, were introduced and explained to parents. During that meeting, and amidst an angry crowd, parents were assured that the school board would provide religious accommodation when sought. Several weeks later, I received a copy of a document provided to teachers, which was not intended for public release, containing scripted answers to shut down possible objections from parents regarding the Equity Policy. At that point, I wrote the school board and requested that my children be permitted to abstain from certain classes and activities. The board responded by refusing to provide the religious accommodation I was seeking.
I responded by pointing to their own Equity Policy, which specifically required that the school board provide religious accommodation, and again requested accommodation. I was then invited to meet with the Principal of my children’s school as well as the board’s Equity Principal. I accepted the invitation.
During this meeting, which lasted over an hour and a half, I was repeatedly told that to permit my children to leave the class during certain lessons would somehow be discrimination against other children. The solution offered to me was rather insulting. It was suggested I should leave the school board and enroll my children in private school or try homeschooling. Therefore, to accommodate the religious beliefs of my family in a manner that has been previously endorsed by the Ministry of Education –by opting out of certain lessons – would somehow be to discriminate against some children. However, telling my family that we were no longer welcome in the school system because of our beliefs was NOT considered discriminatory. I was stunned by the hypocrisy.
Following that meeting, I wrote the school board, asking that I at least be provided with advance notification of classes which would cover material dealing with marriage and human sexuality. I received no response, and after three weeks, I wrote the board’s superintendent asking her for a response, which I received. My request was again denied.
In early July, I wrote the board, asking if they would reconsider their position and provide me with the religious accommodation I was seeking. The school board wrote me to advise that they would have a formal response to me before the beginning of this school year. To my great disappointment, the Board did not follow through on that promise. We’ve already gone through the first week of school and I only received a response Friday September 7th, which once again, denied my religious accommodation. The school board, it seems, has no interest in working with my family. This does not seem consistent with how the board has treated other groups. It has found ways to accommodate these other groups. Why not accommodate my family? Does our being Christian somehow disqualify us from receiving equitable treatment? Despairing, I went to the Parental Rights In Education Defense Fund for help. Having exhausted all opportunities for constructive dialogue and informal dispute resolution, I feel that I have no choice but to seek redress through the courts.
I did not want it to come to this. I did not want to commence legal proceedings against the school board, where my children go to school and where my wife and many other family members work, but I could not simply permit the school board to violate my family’s right to religious freedom and religious accommodation – longstanding Canadian rights. My hope is that the courts will affirm my constitutional and human rights to religious belief. In a school system that prides itself on being inclusive, I hope my children and other children of religious families will not only be included in the school system, but welcomed as equally valuable members of Canadian society.
We also post the entire statement presented at today's press conference by, The Parental Defense Fund in Education:
I thank the press gallery for attending today. My name is Lou Iacobelli, chairperson for The Parental Rights in Education Defense Fund and organizer of this Press Conference. Joining me is Dr. Eusthathios Tourloukis, the parent and Applicant in the legal proceedings we are announcing, and his legal counsel Albertos Polizogopoulos. Our non-profit, legal defense fund was formed about a year and half ago, after observing an aggressive push by educational and state authorities to eradicate parental rights in education, especially the right to guide children according to the family’s own religious and moral beliefs.
The Parental Rights In Education Defense Fund exists to assist parents and other stakeholders by assisting them in obtaining legal counsel to defend their inherent rights as primary educators of their children. We reject the notion that teachers and educational bureaucrats are “co-parents” and thus have an equal right with the parents to direct the moral education of children. In the legal proceedings you will hear about, we have a case of a school board not only seeing itself as being an “equal” co-parent, but in fact, as having a superior right over the parent to influence which religious beliefs their children will eventually embrace as their own, even if it means contradicting what the parents tell them at home. They essentially told the father of two elementary school children that his religious beliefs must be suppressed in the name of “equity”. The violation of these long-recognized rights should be offensive to all parents.
Last Friday afternoon, Dr. Tourloukis filed an Application against the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board in which he sought a court order declaring that as the parent of his children, he is the final authority over his children’s education and requiring the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board to provide him with advance notification of any class, session or material to be covered which conflicts with his sincerely held religious beliefs.
The PRIEDF has come alongside this parent to help financially support these legal proceedings, something he, as many parents, does not have the resources to do on his own, especially against the vast resources of a government-run school board. We will be fundraising for his case. We’ve organized this press conference in support of this parent’s rights and to draw attention to challenges parents are increasingly facing. These are challenges to parental authority rights that are being launched in the name of “Equity” and tolerance. As a result, the beliefs of Christians aren’t being tolerated or accommodated. In the name of “inclusiveness”, parents and children with a Judeo-Christian worldview are being excluded from the school system, either in practice or in effect.
You will hear this beleaguered parent describe how an Ontario school board obstinately refused to abide by its own Religious Accommodation Policy, telling him he has no choice but to surrender his children to lessons and materials that will contradict the family’s sincerely held religious beliefs. All this parent asked was for the school to respect his Christian beliefs on specific issues such as marriage, family and human sexuality by notifying him in advance of any such lessons and if he felt it necessary, to permit him to excuse his children. This parent was reasonable. He did not ask for the materials to not be presented or for alternate materials to be used, but merely to give him advance notice and let him decide if his children would be exposed to those materials. In fact, the Hamilton Board violated its own Religious Accommodation Policy that requires it to accommodate such parental requests.
Furthermore, the longtime policy of the Ontario Ministry of Education is to accommodate parental opt-out rights. This was confirmed in writing in April 2008 by former Education Minister Kathleen Wynn, stating: “Should the component of any course conflict with a religious belief of the parent (of minor-age children), or a student aged 18 or older, the right to withdraw from that component of the course shall be granted, on the written request of the parent ...”
Therefore the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board is in violation of its own policy, in violation of the Ministry of Education’s policy and in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Education Act and the Ontario Human Rights Code.
If you believe and support what we are doing, do visit the website and make a donation. If you have already done so, we thank you for defending Christian and parental rights. We ask for your prayers for the success of this case.