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Gospel lessons in secular schools fought

Trustee opposed to legal right

Winnipeg School Division trustee Lisa Naylor will table her motion at the April 13 board meeting.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Winnipeg School Division trustee Lisa Naylor will table her motion at the April 13 board meeting.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/3/2015 (1551 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Rookie Winnipeg School Division trustee Lisa Naylor is challenging the legal right of evangelists to share their gospel with children in secular public schools.

Specifically, Naylor wants and needs the votes of at least four trustees to demand the province amend legislation that allows the Child Evangelism Fellowship of Manitoba to conduct prayers and Bible studies for kids whose parents have provided written consent.

One word in legislation could do it, said Naylor, who wants "shall" changed to "may" to let trustees decide who can preach in schools.

"I wouldn't support any religious activities in schools," Naylor said. "In particular, I will not support an organization to come into our public schools who has a record of donating money to anti-LGBTQ organizations and is associated with the teaching of creationism."

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/3/2015 (1551 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Rookie Winnipeg School Division trustee Lisa Naylor is challenging the legal right of evangelists to share their gospel with children in secular public schools.

Specifically, Naylor wants and needs the votes of at least four trustees to demand the province amend legislation that allows the Child Evangelism Fellowship of Manitoba to conduct prayers and Bible studies for kids whose parents have provided written consent.

One word in legislation could do it, said Naylor, who wants "shall" changed to "may" to let trustees decide who can preach in schools.

"I wouldn't support any religious activities in schools," Naylor said. "In particular, I will not support an organization to come into our public schools who has a record of donating money to anti-LGBTQ organizations and is associated with the teaching of creationism."

But the CEF fired back Wednesday, accusing the division of discriminating against parents who are exercising their legal right to have religion in public schools.

Naylor will table a motion at the April 13 board meeting that would be debated at the May 4 public meeting. As a first step, "I do want school divisions to have some latitude," Naylor said.

"It's time to review the entire part (of the Public Schools Act) that has to do with religion in the schools — we're not going to be mandated to have religion in our schools," Naylor said.

This is far from the first time Winnipeg trustees have taken on CEF, but so far, the province has been intransigent.

The standard practice of seeking permission for religious instruction hit the fan this week when trustee Dean Koshelanyk became the first board member in memory to take the time to read the actual petition, and alerted the board the petition for Bible studies in Greenway School was significantly deficient in necessary detail and information. Trustees want to meet with CEF to work out an appropriate template.

Furor followed, as trustee Mike Babinsky accused the board of putting up roadblocks to prevent members of the community from believing in God, while Naylor accused CEF of opposing gay, lesbian and transgender rights, and promoting creationism.

CEF national education director Brenda Hanson said Wednesday the Bible studies with kids "never address any of these issues."

"Our organization is designed to share with children the gospel of Jesus Christ," she said.

Hanson agreed the petition form needed additional information and said the group has rectified that problem.

But she emphasized the provincial legislation allows parents the right to have their kids participate in religious instruction in schools and accused the division of discrimination.

She said under board chairman Mark Wasyliw's signature, the division is making demands that go far beyond what's required of any other outside groups going into schools — particularly the WSD's requirement that both parents must sign and both must read the entire year's Bible studies curriculum before signing.

Naylor said she supports people's right to practise the religion of their choice and supports the legislation that lets teachers take off up to three holy days each year. "I applaud study of world religions and the understanding of the role that various religions have played in history, social justice, colonialism, war, economics, sociology, law," Naylor said.

"I do not support outside organizations coming in to our children's public schools to provide religious instruction in their classrooms even if it is at lunch hour or after class.

"The conversation has morphed into one about the right of religious organizations to teach in secular schools," she said.

Wasyliw said trustees had never read the actual petitions before — the current board and its predecessors simply acted on what staff told them.

"The practice was to hand in individually signed sheets. The administration would then collect the information and give us a list of names, ages and guardians who signed. They never gave us the original document for inspection. We never received a traditional petition with signatures or dates when the signatures were collected.

"In reviewing the original, there was large time gaps between the individual signatures, and as trustee Koshelanyk has pointed out, on the individual sheets (there was) no indication that the signer was actually petitioning the WSD, a requirement under the Public Schools Act," Wasyliw said.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Does religion have a place in our secular public school system? Join the conversation in the comments below.

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History

Updated on Thursday, March 19, 2015 at 6:41 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds question for discussion

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