OTTAWA – An Orthodox Christian father has lost a religious freedom and parental rights case before the Ontario Superior Court even though the judge agreed his rights were encroached.
On Nov. 23, Ontario Superior Court Justice Robert B. Reid denied Steve Tourloukis’ request for a declaration of parental authority in education. He also refused a request that the Hamilton-Wentworth School Board be required to accommodate Tourloukis’ religious beliefs.
Constitutional lawyer Albertos Polizogopoulos, who represented Tourloukis, declined to comment as he and his client are reviewing the court decision.
Tourloukis, a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, had requested in 2010 that the board inform him in advance when teachings contrary to his religious beliefs were to be taught so he could remove his two children from class. Among teachings he listed as objectionable were moral relativism, occult practices, sex education, birth control and the promotion of abortion or euthanasia.
The court action began in 2012 and the hearing took place in June 2016.
While Reid agreed Tourloukis’ beliefs are sincerely held and his Charter rights to religious freedom are impinged, he ruled the school board had properly balanced Charter rights with its other legislative obligations to promote safety, inclusivity, equality and tolerance in a multicultural society.
“The context of the board’s decision not to provide the requested accommodation is, in part, the need for religious neutrality and tolerance in a public institution,” the justice wrote.
“It must respect religious difference and attempt not to interfere with the beliefs or practices of any religious group while recognizing there are 103 schools within its jurisdiction.”
He noted there are many differing religious and non-religious beliefs among the thousands of students who attend the schools.
“Accommodation by non-attendance, which is sought by the applicant, would allow him to isolate his children from aspects of the curriculum that in his religious belief would amount to ‘false teachings.’ However, isolation is antithetical to the competing legislative mandate and Charter values favouring inclusivity, equality and multiculturalism.”
The judge found the board’s actions to be “reasonable,” “prudent” and “a practical response.”
He noted that the teacher’s federation submitted that “the curriculum has so fully integrated the requirements for gender equity, antiracism, respect for people with disabilities and respect for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities that it would be impractical if not impossible to advise the applicant in advance when any of the positions that he considers objectionable were to be taught.”
The federation said such an accommodation would create an “undue burden” on teachers.
Tourloukis had other alternatives in pursuing his religious freedom than sending his children to public schools, the judge said.
“Independent schools, whether faith-based or otherwise, may be available as is, of course, the option of homeschooling,” he wrote.
Reid said “some nuance” is required on the matter of parental rights. “A black-and white declaration of parental authority in favour of the applicant would, in my view, oversimplify the common law principles with which neither party disagrees.