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School board targets evangelists

Motion to seek small change to Public Schools Act passes

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/5/2015 (811 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

So, Education Minister James Allum, will you let Winnipeg School Division trustees tell the Child Evangelism Fellowship of Manitoba to get lost?

When you cut to the chase, that's what Monday night's 7-2 school board vote was all about.

 Winnipeg School Division trustee Lisa Naylor: 'The legislation no longer reflects today's society.'

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Winnipeg School Division trustee Lisa Naylor: 'The legislation no longer reflects today's society.'

With barely any discussion over what has been a furor for the last month, six trustees backed Lisa Naylor's motion to ask Allum to change one key word in the Public Schools Act.

That word is "shall," which Naylor's motion asks Allum to change to "may," as in, when all other criteria are met to conduct religious exercises or Bible studies in a public school, the school board may then decide if it would grant approval to the organizing group rather than be bound by the legislation to do so.

In practical terms, we're talking only about the evangelical group, because mainstream religions and local churches have not organized parents on a petition to ask that their kids be allowed to pray or study the Bible before school starts or during lunch.

Only trustees Mike Babinsky and Dean Koshelanyk opposed Naylor's motion.

Naylor said the legislation on religion in schools dates back to 1890: "The legislation no longer reflects today's society," she said. "Most agree our schools are secular institutions."

Provincial legislation prevents school boards from voting in good conscience when religious groups hold beliefs about issues such as sexual orientation that violate the division's values, Naylor said.

"(The motion) does not violate the Charter (of Rights and Freedoms) as it pertains to religion," Naylor said. It prevents groups from proselytizing and recruiting children in public schools, as trustee Sherri Rollins pounded her desk and hollered out a resounding "Hear! Hear!"

Both Babinsky and Koshelanyk accused the board of wanting to be able to pick and choose among religions, which none of the seven denied.

Koshelanyk said school boards could act on a whim, while Babinsky argued it was a dangerous move that would violate the charter's guarantee of freedom of religion.

"We're showing a united front," Naylor said in an interview after the public portion of the board meeting. "I feel good tonight that there's a majority vote."

Naylor said she has not discussed the issue with Allum, who became education minister for the second time last week when Peter Bjornson stepped down for health reasons.

The Public Schools Act allows parents to file petitions to allow their children to take part in religious exercises before classes start, or in Bible studies during lunchtime. They must file the petitions each year and cannot use the school or school grounds for organizing the petition. The process sets minimum numbers and stipulates there be no recruiting of kids or proselytizing on school grounds.

The Child Evangelism Fellowship of Manitoba is the only religious body that organizes and conducts exercises in the WSD, and Naylor and board chairman Mark Wasyliw have raised concerns the evangelists' beliefs violate the division's values on sexual orientation, evolution and other issues.

The WSD has always drawn out the approval process as long as possible, passing one reading of the required three readings of a bylaw at each public board meeting on each application, each year. This year, the board challenged the petition form used by parents at Greenway School to delay the process even further.

Child Evangelism Fellowship of Canada national education director Brenda Hanson said this morning that the group will not be commenting until they hear what Allum has to say.

Allum said this morning that when he receives the request in writing, it will require extensive consultation and reflection.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Nick Martin.

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History

Updated on Tuesday, May 5, 2015 at 7:20 AM CDT: Replaces photo

11:22 AM: Updates with reaction from Child Evangelism Fellowship of Canada

12:36 PM: Adds reaction from Allum

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