In the case, called Sharpe et al v Hamilton-Wentworth School Board , a Greek Orthodox parent had requested that he be notified and his children removed from instruction about a broad number of topics, in particular education about sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Education Act in Ontario provides in part:
169.1 (1) Every board shall,
(a) promote student achievement and well-being;
(a.1) promote a positive school climate that is inclusive and accepting of all pupils, including pupils of any race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status or disability;
The school policy based on that section of the law says:
Students are to be provided with learning materials that are bias-free and that reflect the diversity of the school’s population, including diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity. A central feature of the Policy is that diversity, anti-discrimination and anti-homophobia are not taught in stand-alone lessons but rather are fully integrated into the curriculum so that acceptance of difference becomes routine. For example, teaching materials for a lesson in mathematics might feature children with two fathers or two mothers. In this way, all courses are infused with equity principles and teachers are directed to ensure that all students—including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, two spirited, intersex, queer and questioning people—will, in the words of the EIES, be “engaged, included, and respected, and … see themselves reflected in their learning environment”.
The School Board's evidence was that topics like sexual orientation and gender identity were not taught solely in discrete units in, for example, a health curriculum but were integrated throughout the school's curriculum. So a unit on math, for example, might refer to same sex parents.
The Ontario Court of Appeal - the highest court in Ontario, and a very influential court nation-wide, said that Mr Sharpe's freedom of religion was not affected...first, because he could point to no actual instruction that offended his religion, and second because parents can't insist that students not be taught equity and inclusion on the basis of freedom of religion.
The court said:
E.T. cannot, by virtue of his religious beliefs, insist that a non-denominational public school board restructure its inclusive and integrated program, designed to meet its statutory objective of ensuring a respectful and accepting climate for all children, so that he can ensure that his own children are not exposed to any views that he does not accept. Nor do I accept E.T.’s suggestion that the Board could or should ensure that discussion of matters such as sexual orientation and gender identity are discussed purely as matters of fact rather than as matters of “value judgment”. The Board has a statutory mandate to provide an inclusive and tolerant educational environment, one that respects the principles of equality enshrined in s. 15 of the Charter. Equality, inclusivity and acceptance of difference are values, not facts, and it is unrealistic to expect teachers to provide a learning environment that is truly welcoming to all students in a value-free manner.
This is a great decision in the ongoing battle between the Charter-protected right to freedom of religion and the Charter-protected right to equality.