Calgary’s Roman Catholic Bishop Fred Henry is showing support for the province’s stalled bill on gay straight alliances (GSAs).
In an open letter to members of the church Sunday, Henry called the controversial legislation, Bill 10, a “win-win for everyone.”
“It enshrined parental rights, recognized the autonomy of local school boards, and student rights … without mandating gay straight alliances,” he wrote.
“In fact, we already have in place policies, protocols and resources supporting inclusive communities.”
The weekend letter to parishioners was prompted by simmering debate over the rights of gay students and the rights of parents after Bill 10 was put on hold by Alberta Premier Jim Prentice earlier this month.
Under the proposed Tory legislation, Alberta school boards would be allowed to reject student requests to create GSAs and give the school boards the final word on peer support groups.
Any student challenge to a school board’s decision would have to go before the courts.
The bill came forward after a private member’s motion from Liberal House leader Laurie Blakeman was shot down in November, which would have required the creation of GSAs in schools when requested by students.
However, Prentice called Bill 202 “unnecessarily divisive,” leading to the creation of the temporarily shelved Bill 10.
The legislation was tabled indefinitely until 2015.
In Alberta, many GSA groups are currently already being operated by urban school boards with few found in rural locations.
To date there are none in Alberta’s Catholic school boards.
Henry, along with Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith who released his own letter supporting Bill 10, have said they believe the mandating of GSAs is problematic.
Calgary’s bishop wrote the clubs infringe on parental authority to bring up a child as they see fit.
He said parents should be able to teach their children according to their religious beliefs without pressure from the government.
Henry said the primary issue facing many schools is bullying, and noted in his letter every child (including those attracted to the same sex) possesses an “intrinsic dignity that must be respected.”
He added he wants to ensure students can stay in a safe and caring school environment regardless of their sexuality.
“The establishment of holistic student groups are dedicated to the inclusive nature of our schools, which serve to promote safe and caring communities,” he wrote.
The ongoing debate prompted Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi to weigh in on the matter last week.
He told a crowd of Calgary business leaders last Thursday forcing student supporters of GSAs to defend the clubs before a judge would draw negative international attention that could make Albertans seem like “hillbillies.”