Open Letter to Premier Alison Redford Regarding Bill 2 on Education

This letter was sent to the Office of the Premier of Alberta this evening via email

UPDATE: In the letter sent to the Premier, I erroneously referred to the current School Act as the “current Education Act,” which is actually the proposed title for the Act Bill 2 would create. In the interests of clarity, I’ve corrected that error here by using the term “School Act.”

March 14, 2012

Dear Premier Redford:

I write this letter as a Christian and a parent to express my profound disappointment and outrage with your government over its unprecedented and unnecessary overreach in Bill 2 on education. I urge you to do the right thing, to respect the religious freedom and free speech of thousands of Christian Albertans, and restore the original language of the School Act.

I know that your office has received many, many concerned calls on this issue. I’ve received bulletins from both homeschooling groups and Christian school boards asking all concerned Christians on both sides to make their opinions known to your government. I need not reiterate the concern that homeschooling families are now being defined as “schools” and their everyday parental instruction, academic or not, may fall under the scrutiny of Human Rights enforcers. I need not repeat the objection that the language of Bill 2 is so vague that it threatens to force Christian educators to avoid or contradict the teachings of their own faith in areas of sexuality and the exclusivity of salvation in Christ, even in Christian schools. I need not ask again, “What was wrong with the current Act?” Others have no doubt made these objections clear. Yet I cannot let this pass unchallenged, and so I must go over some of the same ground nonetheless.

I write to tell you, from my personal perspective as a Christian minister, that your government is encroaching on religious ground. You have entered the realm of theology in trying to mandate that Christian educators present all forms of sexual expression and all religions are equally acceptable. That’s not your role.

Why do I say that? Let me explain. The current School Act says this: “education programs and instructional materials referred to in subsection (1) must not promote or foster doctrines of racial or ethnic superiority or persecution, religious intolerance or persecution, social change through violent action or disobedience of laws.” In other words, no one is permitted to teach that one race or ethnic group is better than another or advocate violence against those of different religious or political beliefs. Every Christian agrees with that. The current Act compels the teaching of tolerance—making students aware of differences and that they are not to disagree violently with others. That’s perfectly within your government’s mandate; the Bible commands the civil power to use force to protect its people (Romans 13), and tolerance has to do with establishing such an environment. So: what’s wrong with this current language? Why is Bill 2 necessary in the first place?

The new Bill strikes that section, and replaces it with a mandate to teach in accordance with the Alberta Human Rights Act. Given the actions of Alberta’s Human Rights Commissions in the past (prosecuting a pastor for publishing Bible verses against homosexuality and, even worse, prohibiting him from teaching Christian doctrine on the subject, for instance), and the continued existence of provisions in the Human Rights Act that allow prosecutions for merely causing offence, Christians have no reason to trust that your government will respect or protect our religious freedom.

Why was that section struck? I fear, and the current language of the bill does nothing to relieve that fear, that whoever drafted the bill did not think the language strong enough. My fear is that your government believes teaching tolerance is not enough, that educators must be compelled to teach students to accept religious beliefs and lifestyles contrary to their convictions.

By striking that section, your government sends the message, intended or not, that it wants to teach students not just how to think and act but also what to believe. Moreover, your government also subjects Christian homeschooling parents (given Bill 2’s vague definition of a homeschool as a “school”) to the Human Rights Act as they interact with their children in their own homes. The bottom line is that your government is trying to extend its mandate beyond its God-given responsibility to protect the innocent to mandating belief.

Shall society look to government, rather than to parents and certainly not to religion, to know what to believe? That, Premier Redford, is the sin of idolatry: the replacement of God as the final authority with the work of human hands.

Teaching beliefs, teaching the acceptance of lifestyle choices and religious viewpoints as legitimate, isn’t government’s role. Government doesn’t decide what is morally right. Human beings don’t decide what’s morally right; how could we? We are so limited and prone to change. That’s a divine right alone, and is delegated to the church in its teaching ministry to believers and their children—not to government. The Bible is full of passages directing parents and elders of churches to teach their children, but never tells kings or magistrates to do so. The right to teach our own faith as we see fit is a foundational element of religious freedom, but more importantly, it is a mandate from God that no human authority should dare to interfere with.

There’s a common thread of mistrust running through this letter. I don’t trust your government, though I would like to. My Christians friends and family don’t trust your government. I’ve lost track of the number of emails, Tweets, and Facebook postings I’ve seen from them deploring Bill 2.

See, Premier Redford, you preside over a government that is mistrusted and feared. In the free West, in Canada, in an age of alleged equality and freedom, your government is feared by a religious minority. That is your responsibility, and you have a duty to change it. The ball is in your government’s court: you have the opportunity to earn my community’s trust by restoring the original language (and, while you’re at it, removing the section from the Human Rights Act that permits prosecution of expression on the basis of the mere potential to offend, as even the Conservative government in Ottawa has decided to do).

Or, you can persist in your course of action, in which case I need only point out that an election is coming up, your main opposition is against this bill, and the polls are tight. I guarantee you that this issue will impact my vote and the votes of many of my friends and family.

Let me share a Bible verse that’s very relevant to this matter:

“We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.  (Acts 5:29-32)

“We must obey God,” the Apostles said. I invite you to do the same. But don’t skip the rest of the passage. I don’t know your heart or your religious beliefs, but this issue goes beyond public policy. It goes to your very relationship with your Creator. You’re a politician. You know it’s popular to look to politics, whether conservative, liberal, or moderate, as man’s best hope for happiness. Premier Redford, as Ecclesiastes says, “This is meaningless.” Only God can bring peace. Only God can forgive sins, mine, or yours, or anyone else’s. Look to Jesus Christ, who was punished for human sins on the Cross. You will find forgiveness there, forgiveness that every human being needs. And more than that, you will find the hope of glory, the assurance of a God who will make all things new. Politics can do some good in the world, and my prayers are with you as the Bible commands (1 Timothy 2:1-2) that you will have wisdom, but also, even more, that you will know the truth. And if you really want to see a difference made in the world, Premier Redford (as I expect you do, given your line of work), don’t settle for the fleeting shadow of what can be done with human hands here. Look to Christ, to the one who makes all things new, and be amazed.

Regardless, though, I must return to the matter of Bill 2. Again, the Scripture commands: “We must obey God rather than man.” And regardless of the outcome, as a Christian, I answer to a higher authority. And one day, you will too, as all human beings will. No Act of the Legislature and no Human Rights Commission could ever compel me to disobey my Lord and fail to teach my children according to the Bible.

I will obey God rather than man. I have no choice, nor would I want to choose otherwise. The real choice, Premier Redford, is yours.

Respectfully,

Jeff Jones

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Open Letter to Premier Alison Redford Regarding Bill 2 on Education

  1. Pingback: A SECOND Open Letter to Premier Alison Redford: This Time, Regarding the Amendment to Bill 2 | Cutting It Straight

  2. You know, of course, your letter and concerns will be dismissed out of hand from the first mention of being a Christian, as being just another one of those crazy, extremist, right-wing nutbars.

    Though I agree with the points in this letter, the issue is far bigger then religion or homeschooling. The wording of s.16 affects all parents and all schools.

    • Jeff Jones

      Hi Kunoichi–you may well be right. After all, as the Apostle says, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18) So I don’t expect everyone, or even most, to take that letter very seriously.

      However, it needed to be written that way. There will be no lack of those who make a logical or philosophical argument against what the government is doing. Perhaps their letters will receive more attention, and they might be more “effective” in turning public opinion or swaying the policymakers. But as a Christian and a pastor, my responsibility is more profound than simply making political progress, however that’s defined. My job is to declare the truth and proclaim Christ. See, the Christian Gospel has direct implications for this issue, and I have an evangelical responsibility to ensure that message gets out there.

      How “effective” that message is, how well it is received by nonbelievers, is not my concern or responsibility. I can’t change hearts, any more than Redford or her teachers can (which was one of the points I was driving across). I’m just the messenger. The Gospel we preach, however, can, provided it is faithfully preached and not watered down or obscured. So I can’t write any other way.

      As for section 16 being bigger than homeschooling, I agree wholeheartedly (I alluded to that fact when I said “it still places the work of parents in educating their children in a homeschool, and the work of Christian teachers in both the public and private systems, under the jurisdiction of a piece of legislation that has been used to attack Christian beliefs,” but I guess I could have made the application to other forms of education more clear). Though I talk a lot about homeschooling in the letter, I’m not actually a homeschooler myself (though I’ve given it serious consideration). My child attends a Christian school, and I have Christian friends teaching in the public system. This act will affect them as well.

      And so the act is actually bigger than schooling, period. It impacts freedom of expression in general, because of its link to the Human Rights Act. And that act is very seriously flawed. The fact that this education bill is being pushed by a government which sees no problems with what the Alberta Human Rights Commission has been doing only adds to my concern.

      But it is not, as you said, bigger than religion. Like I said in the letter, you can’t neatly compartmentalize religion. Religion impacts every sphere of life. The government claims to be neutral and secular, but their philosophical motivations behind this act–promoting diversity and tolerance through government legislation and regulation–is itself a religious perspective, as it amounts to the declaration that the state has the power and the right to change the morality of its subjects. I disagree; such power belongs only to God, and such a mandate belongs first to parents.

  3. Pingback: Homosexuality, Social Issues, and the Alberta Election: Why All Parties To The Controversy Are Wrong | Cutting It Straight