A bill aimed at tackling bullying in schools in Canada’s Manitoba province has come under fire from religious groups who object to being required to allow gay-straight alliances in faith schools, with one Rabbi even comparing it to breaking kosher laws.
Bill 18 would require all schools in Manitoba to allow students to form gay-straight alliances, as well as clubs promoting equality between students of different genders, races, and abilities.
There have already been objections to the bill from religious groups. A meeting to oppose the bill in Steinbach, a small town with a high Christian population, drew a crowd of 1,200 people, according to the Globe and Mail.
On Friday a letter by Rabbi Avrohom Altein to Premier Greg Selinger urging him to amend the bill was published, along with a joint letter by the Manitoba Sikh Cultural and Seniors Centre president Amarjeet Warraich, Manitoba Islamic Association president Ismael Mukhtar, and Coptic Heritage Society of Manitoba secretary Adel Shenodasent.
The groups are pushing for amendments to the bill over concerns it will limit the religious freedom of faith schools.
Mr Altein said gay-straight alliances were ‘disrespectful’ and made an analogy between being gay and breaking kosher, comparing starting support groups for LGBT students in Orthodox Jewish schools to allowing groups wanting non-kosher food in their lunches.
He said: “It would be wrong for a student of an Orthodox Jewish school to demand the right to eat a lunch of non-kosher food such as pork. It would be even more disrespectful for students to form an official group within the Jewish religious school to advocate for the ‘right’ to eat pork.”
“I think it’s a valid concern that [religious groups] have,” said Winnipeg South MP Rod Bruinooge. “They would suggest a government shouldn’t be in the business of explaining to them how their holy books are interpreted.
“I think there could be an exemption for theological schools working in a religious context,” he added.
Education Minister Nancy Allan opposed any amendments, saying children at faith schools were just as in need of gay-straight alliances as children in secular schools.
“We know clearly that young people need to be protected in this particular area. We know clearly that young people who are gay have higher rates of depression and mental health issues, they talk about suicide, they are harassed and bullied,” she said.
Gay-straight alliances are also an issue in the US this week, as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has threatened to sue a Pennsylvania school board which banned students from forming a gay-straight alliance.