Done it again

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After a difficult court battle, Ontario high school student Marc Hall finally won the right to take his same-sex partner, 21-year-old Jean-Paul Dumond, to his prom.

Earlier, the Durham Catholic School Board ruled that while Hall would be able to go to the prom at Oshawa's Monsignor John Pereyma Catholic High School, he would go dateless. However, on May 10, the date of the school's prom, Ontario Superior Court Justice Robert McKinnon issued an injunction against the board, forcing them to allow the couple to attend.

It's difficult to believe that we live in a country where these people are allowed to push their values onto others and force our children to witness such displays of injustice. It says something about a country that even requires debate, much less forces the people involved to settle the matter in court, when the answer-both morally and within the Charter of Rights and Freedoms-is clear. These people are ruin the place we proudly call Canada and, therefore, erode the moral fibre of our "free nation."

Imagine the media circus had this happened in a Alberta catholic school--or a public one for that matter. The display would be even more disgusting, with a fiercer court battle and an even worse display of our so-called moral authorities.

Yes, these people have done it again.

Unfortunately, "these people" that I so affectionately refer to are indeed moral authorities and role models for not only our children, but also a large portion of our society. It's a sad display of Canadian notions of rights and freedoms-both their abilities and their limits-that a gay high school student has to fight for his right to take whoever he wants to the school prom, be that person gay, straight, male, female or otherwise. It's sad that there still exists an ignorant pocket of Canadians--and a sizable one at that--who fight actions that hurt no one and benefit many.

Our country champions itself as a place where personal freedoms are protected and discrimination is not only frowned upon, but furiously fought against. But we're not even close.

Despite the fact that any references to homosexuality in the bible are debatable at best, it's time that our leaders--school officials, provincial governments and even religious figures--aim towards change and promote an equal society. Like this incident in Oshawa, anti-gay sentiment is nowhere more apparent than in the Canadian Bible-belt that is Alberta. Ultra-conservative, homophobic and, unfortunately, not wholly on their own.

The role of our educators, governments and courts in some cases is to promote a sense of morality as a means to achieve a peaceful, orderly society. But it is not to promote discrimination of any kind. And while Catholic school boards are free to teach their religion, that should not include what needlessly happened to Marc Hall.




Voltaire once said: "I may not agree with what you say, but to your death I will defend your right to say it." It's an elegant summary of true commitment to freedom in a free society and, though itís widely quoted, it is seldom put into practice. One of the most difficult issues in a democratic country is accepting the notion that other people have the right to be free as well. Freedom is a word used liberally in our society. It is the cornerstone of our democratic government and the driving force behind our free market economy. However, it is dismissed every single day in thousands of small ways because the notion of a completely free society is fundamentally unworkable. We cannot, for instance, allow pedophiles to freely indulge their sexual inclinations while simultaneously protecting children from abuse; we must weigh the rights of the individual against their effects, a fundamental test in any decision regarding the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Increasingly, the Canadian judicial system is becoming irreconcilable with the freedom to practice religion and the question must be asked: ìCan we as a supposedly free society accept religious principles that are objectionable to us?î Can we be expected to tolerate and even encourage every dogmatic principle of every single religion in Canada? Obviously not, individual rights must not affect others in such a way as to curtail their rights. The question, therefore, is not whether religious beliefs may be foisted on the population at large, but rather whether we have a right to legislate their ideology. Are we still maintaining a free society when we tell others what they can and cannot believe? Here in Calgary, we see the desecration of a sixteen year-old Jehovahís Witnessí right to practice her religion, forced to undergo treatment that she has emphatically refused. At sixteen she is old enough to drive, consent to sexual activity, but not to control what goes into her body. Her decision is an assertion of her rights regarding her body, yet nonetheless she has been told that she is too immature to have the right to choose. The question becomes slightly murkier, however, when dealing with a Catholic school boardís imposition of its beliefs on a student. Marc Hall was told that he could not bring a same-sex partner to his Catholic high school prom because, as a Catholic school, they could not condone behaviour strictly forbidden under religious dogma. Like any free society, the Canadian educational system offered Marc Hall a choice: the Durham District School Board operates no fewer than eight secondary schools in the Oshawa area; public schools without theological mandates. Hall chose to enter a school system founded on the principle that the Catholic Church has the right to educate children under Catholic principles. The Catholic Church operates under a hierarchal structure under which the mandates of the papacy are seen as divine and, therefore, unquestionable. Those who do not accept these mandates are, by definition, not Catholic. Why then would a gay student choose to enrol under such a school system? The courtís decision to overturn the school boardís ruling was tantamount to saying that it was wrong to believe that homosexuality was a sin. Is the government in the business of amending church dogma to ensure it is consistent with secular Canadian belief? Do I believe that blood transfusions are abominations in the eyes of God or that homosexuality is a sin? The answer to both questions is no, but it is also unimportant because those are decisions I can make only for myself. I will not be the moral authority for an entire country because I donít believe that any single body has the right to decide moral absolutes for our culture. A society is made no freer by legislating belief, even if the intent is to promote equality, because it ignores the fact that the freedom of belief is the most important freedom of all. If we remove the right of belief, in any form, we are undermining the principles our country was founded on.