Bishops urge Albertans to vote morally for school trustees

As the nomination period for Alberta Catholic school trustees ends, bishops are urging voters to make "an informed, moral choice" on election day.

'As Catholics, we have a sacred duty and obligation to make an informed, moral choice,' letter states

Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith signed a letter to Alberta voters, urging them to make informed and moral choices about Catholic school trustees. (CBC)

As nominations close for Alberta Catholic school trustees, bishops are urging voters to make "an informed, moral choice" on election day.

In a letter addressed to Catholic voters Sunday, seven bishops from Alberta and the Northwest Territories suggested guidelines for electing school trustees.

"Not as a directive, not telling them how to vote. We don't do that," said Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith, one of the seven who signed the letter.

"Catholics vote out of their conscience, but understand that that conscience needs to be informed."

Seven bishops from Alberta and the Northwest Territories signed a letter urging Catholic voters to make moral decisions at municipal elections. (Ministry of Catholic School Trustee)

The letter urges Catholic Albertans to participate in the municipal election and to vote for Catholic school trustees who are, "first and foremost, disciples of Our Lord."

"We encourage you to exercise this responsibility in a spirit of prayer and in accord with an informed conscience," the letter states.

"It is incumbent upon us to select leaders who will ensure the continued formation of our school communities in the values and teachings of our Lord as taught through our Church."

Trustees must follow mandates from Alberta Education while also "ensuring that their every decision will always accord with the truth of the Gospel and the teaching of the Church."

'Adults need to get out of the way'

Balancing church teachings with Alberta Education mandates has sparked controversy within previous religious school boards.

Debates about gender-neutral washrooms devolved into feuding and name-calling in the Edmonton Catholic school board two years ago.

Last September, the Baptist Christian Education Society locked horns with Education Minister David Eggen over gay-straight alliances.

The province, in January 2016, mandated the LGBTQ-friendly alliances be allowed at any Alberta school where students want one.

Kris Wells, the director of the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta, said voters should weigh students' well-being against the bishops' letter.

Canadian students who do not identify as heterosexual are three times more likely than their peers to be bullied, according to Alberta Human Services.

Gay-straight alliances and other measures to protect LGBTQ students in Alberta can help reduce bullying, Wells said.

"In many cases, the adults need to get out of the way," he said. "They're the ones who are having the problems discussing LGBTQ issues, not the students."

Kris Wells is the director of the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta. (CBC)

Religious school trustees should follow the province before the church, Wells added.

"The issues would be quite different if these were completely privately funded religious schools," Wells said. "But they're not.

"They're taxpayer-funded Catholic schools, which means they must uphold the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and all of Alberta's legislation, including the Human Rights Act, which provides protection on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression."

Municipal elections in Alberta are on Oct. 16.