Coptic Church Defends Students’ Rights to be Homophobic

Ontario’s public schools are taking heat from some Christian groups for their new equity and inclusive education strategy. The policy, which applies to districts that receive public funding, requires that schools work to fight racism, homophobia, religious intolerance and sexism to encouraging achievement among all students. Upset over the anti-homophobia guidelines set by Toronto Catholic schools, Coptic Orthodox leader Fr. Jeremiah Attaalla is threatening to pull all Coptic children out of the system.

In keeping in following with Ontario’s inclusive education strategy, the Toronto Catholic school board will vote on an Equity and Inclusive Education (EIE) policy this month. By giving the catechism some wiggle room, schools can continue to receive public funding. The EIE will stick to Catholic social teaching, but will put an emphasis on diversity and respecting all people. It reads, “The Board recognizes that any form of social or cultural discrimination is incompatible with Catholic moral principles and is in violation of the Ontario Human Rights Code.” With Catholic students throughout the province clamoring for GSAs, now is time time for the board to move beyond some traditions in order to keep Catholicism relevant.

Though the EIE hasen’t yet been passed, teachers have already started creating curriculum that meets the guidelines. Cathy Sousa, a grade nine teacher at Resurrection Catholic Secondary School, gave her students a test that not only acknowledged that gay people exist, but showed a remarkable display of acceptance. After asking her students to define terms like “homophobia” and “coming out,” she had them mark common beliefs about LGB people true or false (and marked students wrong for marking stereotypical statements true!) and then write a paragraph describing the Catholic Church’s teaching about homosexuality. I don’t know about you, but that sounds at least as fun and comprehensive as labeling pictures of STIs in sex ed.

Despite Sousa and Toronto Catholic schools’ good intentions, parents, priests and politicans are angrier than two angry things. In an all-caps letter, Fr. Attaalla said he will not hesitate to remove all students from Coptic families from Catholic schools. The Church believes that this will affect at least 4,000 families and could mean a loss of $40 million for Toronto Catholic schools. The Canadian Egyptian Congress is urging families not to withdraw, instead encouraging them to stay and fight the EIE from within.

While Nazeer Bishay, the president of the Congress, worries that students whose families pull them out of Catholic schools will have no place to go, Fr. Attaalla believes that members of the Coptic community could start their own school;“Having our own school may be our only option, especially for people who can’t afford private school. But we are a rich church, so we’ll fund a new school if we have to.

Creating safe spaces to is something queers know all too well. The difference here is that, while LGBT people and allies work to create places where everyone can feel safe, Fr. Attaalla wants to shelter his own intolerance and enable discrimination. The idea that someone can escape discomfort with wealth, though appalling, isn’t too foreign either. Whether it’s as egregious as a white-only or men-only country club or as sneaky and common as an upper-class neighborhood, people buy validation all the time.

LGBT community members aren’t the only ones being targeted by opponents of the EIE. Bishay along with some members of the Coptic community are worried that the EIE will introduce Friday prayer services for Muslim students similar to the ones recently permitted at a public school. He emphasizes that he is not anti-Muslim; “We must not be misunderstood: We are not against Islam in any way. The disruption of the school day is the main thing.” His argument seems almost plausible and the support of the Jewish Defense League, the Canadian Hindu Advocacy group and some Muslim parents lend credibility to the idea that this is strictly an issue of appropriate usage of class time. What continues to bother me is that Catholic schools are the only religious schools to receive public funding in Ontario. If there’s public support and public money for Catholic organizations, why should there not be similar concessions for other religions?

“As Christ said,” Fr. Attaalla noted, “everyone is welcome to sit at my father’s table as long as they don’t say anything that’ll upset Aunt Mary and pass the gravy when Jesus asks for it.” Actually he didn’t say that last part, but I feel it pretty accurately captures the spirit of how he believes Gods thinks. As for Toronto Catholic schools, let’s hope they continue to push for inclusion and that their model sets an example for other systems.

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Laura is a tiny girl who wishes she were a superhero. She likes talking to her grandma on the phone and making things with her hands. Strengths include an impressive knowledge of Harry Potter, the ability to apply sociology to everything under the sun, and a knack for haggling for groceries in Spanish. Weaknesses: Chick-fil-a, her triceps, girls in glasses, and the subjunctive mood. Follow the vagabond adventures of Laura and her bike on twitter [@laurrrrita].

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  1. I have real issues with the catholic board funding mostly because it was started for really horrible reasons. It wasn’t so much in the interest of providing alternative education for catholics as much as it was a method of keeping undesirables (catholic immigrants, french canadians) out of the white, anglo school board. This is why some schools (like my elementary school) weren’t called “Catholic” schools, they were “Separate” schools.

    • That’s really interesting! I had kind of just chalked it up to “Canada is not the U.S.” but that makes sense.

  2. “I don’t know about you, but that sounds at least as fun and comprehensive as labeling pictures of STIs in sex ed.”

    The author equates homosexuality with STD’s.

    Gee I’m really glad they’re going to have to teach actual facts now. Nobody deserves to be treated by their peers in such a way including children in catholic schools.

    What I’m never sure about is how catholic agencies act as if they’re being stolen from when they lose government grants. If you can’t live up to your contract and treat everyone like a human being don’t expect handouts. Don’t act as if you’re being stolen from-I had my entire adolescence and a chance at forming a family stolen from me decades ago by people like them.

    “We are not against Islam in any way. The disruption of the school day is the main thing.”
    I have to wonder if this person has ever lobbied for in school prayer or even has prayer sessions in his school.

    • I read it more as equating informative and helpful sex ed with anti-homophobia education, not homos = STIs.

      • thanks radiogirl. i was totally going for: typical sex ed is not helpful, it’s just scary. this sounds like a good thing to teach people.

  3. Well, the original source of the Homosexuality Test is quite disconcerting: I’m glad you linked Queerty first.

    This is stupid and completely unnecessary and makes me glad that at least in North America, my Orthodox Church isn’t pushing for open discrimination and bigotry on its congregations. It’s awful that so many people think hatred and prejudice are more important than being compassionate and inclusive Christians.

  4. Well, the Jewish Defense League being against accommodations for Muslims isn’t exactly evidence that it’s problematic…the JDL is an anti-Muslim hate group.

  5. so im a former toronto distrcit school board student (my experience was fairly brief but pretty great) and this article makes me soooo sad
    im just imagining what it must be like to be a closeted, gay jr high kid in catholic school who not only has to worry about coming out to friends and family but also about the fact that their school doesnt think they should be protected from discrimination or even considered people…

  6. Generally, when I see topics on religion I’m tempted to post atheist quotes… normally I don’t because I realize that many modern people still believe in them, and even if the current topic is one of the negative aspects, people will still be offended if the entire religion is mocked.

    Additionally, unless its brought up by the religious person in the first place, I generally don’t care what someone believes (unless it affects something in the real world).

    However, I’ve decided that this is generally the wrong approach to take… avoiding mocking religion in any form when the topic is religion is not the way to help people get over their delusions.

    Unless the person in question is my slightly racist, never-missed-sunday-church-in-her-life 85 year old grandmother.

    Anyways, as Richard Dawkins has said…

    “When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called Religion.”

  7. I don’t understand why Ontario still has a catholic school board is the first place, when most other provinces did away with separate schools/school boards for protestants & catholics years, if not decades ago.

    The laws are outdated. It’s not fair that certain religions – Catholisism, and occasionally protestantism – are allowed to form separate school boards in some provinces, while other religions don’t have this right.

    It is my opinion that religious schools should not receive public funding. Especially if they can’t/won’t comply with public school rules. I would prefer that public school education be secular – open to (and welcoming of) all people, regardless of religion, race, sexuality, etc…

    If you want your kids to learn about religion, teach them at home, send them to bible study, sunday school, Hebrew school, etc… or send them to a religion-based private school.

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  9. That was a very biased and disrespectful article towered fr attalla. No one cares what you believe in terms of how he thinks god thinks. And as for the sexuality nonsense in schools, it has no reason being there in the first place. And if it does, give it it’s own place, class, time, and method. Not to be force fed to students.

    • Completely agree w/ Evan. This isn’t journalism, this is a mock commentary. If you don’t agree with his opinion, you have the right to your own opinion, but don’t masquerade it as journalism and then change the words coming out of his mouth. How can freedom of opinion be encouraged for you and for homosexuals and not for him?

      He isn’t saying take anything out of public (secular) schools, he’s saying out of catholic schools that were built on catholic principles. Further, he isn’t saying be homophobes or discriminate against them. Instead, he said it shouldn’t be taught as curriculum. There’s a MAJOR difference between accepting and enabling or encouraging.

      • Yeah, the last sentence was a joke, but sometimes you’ve got to laugh to keep from crying, ya know? The rest of the article was deadly serious.

    • god i hate it when i get force-fed homosexuals. they’re always like “it tastes just like graham crackers” but that’s such a lie. homosexuals taste NOTHING like graham crackers.

      • I thought everything is supposed to taste like chicken… at least thats what the Matrix has led me to believe.

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