'No evidence' Hamilton school board violated dad's religious freedom over sex ed.: judge

'No evidence' Hamilton school board violated dad's religious freedom over sex ed.: judge

Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board did not infringe on a Hamilton father's religious freedom, Ontario's appeal court ruled last Wednesday.

Steve Tourloukis, a father with two children in the public school system and a Greek Orthodox Christian, filed for appeal after the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled that the school doesn't have to give him advance notice before discussions of sex, marriage or family happens in the classroom.

Justice Robert J. Sharpe, who dismissed Tourloukis's appeal, wrote in his ruling the "central and fatal shortcoming" in his case was "the lack of any concrete evidence of interference with his right to religious freedom."

He said Tourloukis "provided no evidence of any actual instance where his or his children's religious freedom had been violated," said Sharpe.

Sharpe said Tourloukis was not able to show his children were ever coerced to do things contrary to their religious beliefs or denied the right to practice their religion.

Justice Sharpe said it's clear to him that if children attending secular public schools are exposed to ideas that challenge their parents' religious beliefs, it does not count as infringement of religious freedom.

He quoted the attorney general, "requiring students in public school to gain an awareness of Canada's diverse reality is not a substantial infringement of religious freedom."

A long battle

Tourloukis first submitted a letter for accommodation in 2012.

In the letter he had a list of topics he did not want his children exposed to, including "discussions or portrayals of homosexual/bisexual conduct and relationships and/or transgenderism as natural, healthy or acceptable."

He went back and forth with the school board for two years.

In the discussions Tourloukis indicated he had no problems with his children learning facts about sexual orientation, but he would have a problem if they were exposed to value judgments that differed from his perspectives as informed by his religion.

When he spoke to CBC's Ontario Today in 2012, he said it's "a parent's right to know."

The school board did not comply with his request and he took the board to court. Tourloukis then lost the case last November.

Reactions from supporters

Public Education Advocates for Christian Equity (P.E.A.C.E) Ontario, an advocacy group, said the court ruling is "very encouraging news," even though Tourloukis lost the appeal.

"They have persevered, and all people of faith have benefited," wrote the organization wrote in a Facebook post.

The reason is Justice Peter D. Lauwers emphasized that parents have the primary right to their children's education in his decision.

He wrote "the right of parents to care for their children and make decisions for their well-being, including decisions about education, is primary, and the state's authority is secondary to that parental right."

Supporters of Tourloukis see this to mean there is opportunity for future legal challenges where the results may be in their favour.