Hamilton dad takes school board to court over religion

A Hamilton father is taking the public school board to court for allegedly failing to accommodate his Christian religious beliefs.

A Hamilton father is taking the public school board to court for allegedly failing to accommodate his Christian religious beliefs.

Steve Tourloukis, a local dentist and father of two, wants the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board to "acknowledge my inherent parental rights to direct the spiritual and moral education of my children."

Tourloukis also wants advance notice of lessons, activities or materials that "touch upon certain subjects," and if he deems it appropriate, the ability to withdraw his children from that class or exercise, Lou Iacobelli, chair for the The Parental Rights in Education Defense Fund (PRIEDF), said in a statement today.

This includes lessons that conflict with his views on marriage, family and human sexuality.

The board suggested Tourloukis homeschool his children — a son in Grade 4 and a daughter in Grade 1 — if he didn't like the curriculum. That suggestion that is "condescending" and "the epitome of intolerance," Iacobelli said.

Tourloukis is not seeking money, said Albertos Polizogopoulos, the Ottawa-based lawyer representing him.

He's looking for a declaration from the court that he has ultimate authority over the education of his children, Polizogopoulos said. He also wants the ability to be made aware of what will be taught in class and to pull his children out when certain subjects are discussed.

Publicly funded schools

"We're arguing this from a Charter of Rights and Freedoms perspective," he said.

There is a "vast array" of previous decisions that deal with freedom of religion and support the case, he said.

The school board was served notice on Friday and has not yet responded, Polizogopoulos said. The case is scheduled to be heard in a Hamilton court on Sept. 20.

Tourloukis didn't choose the more faith-based Catholic system because "he's not Catholic," Polizogopoulos said.

"The public school system is supposed to be there for the public regardless of if you're Catholic or Christian or Muslim or Jewish."

'My rights vs. his rights'

It is a public school board's job to accommodate one student without hurting another, said John Malloy, director of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board. That means providing a forum where everyone has a voice.

"If there is a child with two moms in a classroom, that child has a right to share that experience," Malloy told CBC Hamilton. "They have the right for that to be reflected in the curriculum in terms of the resources we use.

"We are publicly funded and it's our duty to make sure everyone has a place."

There are current requests from parents to have their religion accommodated. Those are usually dealt with at the school level, Malloy said.

"The biggest challenge is when the argument becomes my rights versus his rights," he said. "I would suggest that polarized discussion probably won't take us where we need to go, which is to build a learning environment based on compassion."

Handled at a local level

Education Minister Laurel Broten said school boards across the province have religious accommodation protocols they put in place at a local level.

Broten said she believes in the province's "evidence-based curriculum" and it must be taught across Ontario.

"We are confident and stand by our curriculum," she said.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said decisions about accommodations are up to the local school boards.

"That's why we have independently elected trustees," she said.

"It remains their purview to make those decisions and to determine what the board can handle as far as accommodating the needs of parents and the kids."


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca

With files from The Canadian Press