Ontario's Liberal government says it is not prepared to abandon the sex-ed component of a pending anti-bullying law, despite criticism by some religious leaders Tuesday that it is an affront to traditional family values.
Christian, Jewish and Muslim representatives say they agree school bullies must be stopped, but they can't condone a requirement under the legislation proposed to deal with it that schools promote sexual tolerance through gay clubs.
"To force, especially Christian classrooms or schools, to have homosexual clubs would of course be an affront to their family values," Charles McVety, of the Institute for Canadian Values, told a joint news conference.
"And what does this have to do with bullying? Nothing."
McVety, who led the fight against the Liberals' last attempt to update the province's sex-ed curriculum, says Premier Dalton McGuinty is using the problem of bullying to advance "his radical sex education agenda."
The religious leaders say that agenda is driven by gay activists.
"When you are forcing teachers, Christian teachers, Jewish teachers, Muslim teachers, to teach things that are contrary to the values that they hold, to teach that there are six genders and that you are not attached to the gender of your anatomy, do you not find that that may be an offence to a lot of Ontarians?" asked McVety.
Rabbi Mendel Kaplan of Chabad Flamingo Synagogue in Toronto said he also believes that parts of the anti-bullying bill aimed at making schools inclusive and tolerant of gay lifestyles are offensive to many families.
"This legislation proposes that children be indoctrinated to reject their parents' faith and their parents' family values, and that's an affront," said Kaplan.
"What nobody here in good conscience can support is a law that calls on people of faith to abandon the beliefs that we consider sacred, all in the name of political correctness."
Other religious activists say there will be a mass exodus of kids from public and separate schools if the anti-bullying bill with its sexual accommodation provisions is not amended.
"There's radical, radical stuff in there, all of this agenda on gender identity and facilitating the questioning of a child's gender and all this other sex-driven stuff that's clearly coming from activists," said Jack Fonseca of Campaign Life Catholic.
"It's not coming from parents' consultations. It was drafted with consultations by radical activist groups."
Education Minister Laurel Broten rejected the criticisms expressed by the religious representatives as "homophobic," and said her job was to make sure every child finds school a warm and inviting place, regardless of their sexual orientation or any other factors.
"There's absolutely nothing radical about working hard as a community to make sure that every single student in our schools can be safe and accepted and succeed," said Broten.
McGuinty also defended the legislation during a visit to Windsor, saying all Catholic schools will be required to have a gay-straight alliance, even though they won't have to use that name.
"I fully expect that Catholic kids are going to use the word 'gay,"' said McGuinty.
"I fully expect that Catholic teachers are going to use the word gay, and as a Catholic premier of Ontario I'm going to be talking about gay kids."
Campaign Life Catholic responded by saying McGuinty is not a good Catholic because he supports abortion and same-sex marriages.
"To say that he should be the one who dictates what kind of Catholicism gets taught in a religious school, that's absurd," said Fonseca.
"Dalton McGuinty nor any other person who wears the cultural badge of Catholic, and goes to church in order to look good come election time, they don't have the right to change Catholic teaching."
The New Democrats said the anti-bullying campaign won't be effective if the government is afraid to force Catholic schools to use the name gay-straight alliance for clubs that promote tolerance.
"There's no way a word like gay should be the thing that prevents students from making sure they have the support networks they need in their schools," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.