Religious Hamilton dad not an 'advocate for ignorance,' he says

The Hamilton dentist issuing a legal challenge to the local public school board insists he's not an 'advocate for ignorance.'

The Hamilton dentist issuing a legal challenge to the local public school board insists he's not an "advocate for ignorance."

Steve Tourloukis said Tuesday in an interview with CBC's Ontario Today that he has an "alternative family."

"My kids have gay relatives," he said. "I'm not advocating for ignorance here. But when the board of education goes beyond teaching mere facts and starts to impose a certain belief system on factual information, I think that crosses a line."

Tourloukis announced Monday that he is seeking a court order against the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board.

The Greek Orthodox father of two wants advance notice when issues of sexuality, marriage or family are discussed so he can opt to pull his kids from class if they conflict with his values.

Tourloukis told Ontario Today that his battle started when he learned the school board planned to present materials that "conflicted with my family's sincerely held religious beliefs."

"I provided them with a very short list of hot button issues," said Tourloukis, whose wife is a teacher in the local public board. But "they won't tell me when they're going to expose my children to this stuff."

'A parent's right to know'

Tourloukis insists that it's about "a parent's right to know," and that he has no issues with his children learning "factual information."

"It's when they give value judgments on those issues," he said.

The board already grants this sort of accommodation to Muslim and Jehovah's Witness students, he told the radio show.

But John Malloy, director of education, said he is not aware of that happening.

"That's not our experience," he told Ontario Today. "We have no evidence that that's the case."

Other Orthodox parents

This isn't the first time this year that the public school board has faced Orthodox parents.

Father Geoffrey Korz, general secretary of the Pan-Orthodox Association of Greater Hamilton, approached the school board in June saying that Christian students are being bullied for expressing "traditionally held moral values."

About 45 Orthodox members gathered in the gallery to support Korz's presentation to board trustees. He wants the board to establish an "anti-Christophobia committee" and information campaign.

Staff are reporting back on whether bullying against Christians is included in the board's equity policy.

Korz said this week that while his group is not involved in Tourloukis's legal campaign, he is "certainly sympathetic."

Fundraiser for legal fund

Korz said his community may also consider raising money for Tourloukis's legal fund. The Parental Rights in Education Defense Fund (PRIEDF), which has a four-member board, is fundraising for Tourloukis's effort.

Representatives for PRIEDF did not return calls on Tuesday. But its website lists the following issues as problematic parts of the provincial Liberals' Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy:

  • celebrating the Gay Pride Parade as "equity-related work"
  • setting up "openly homosexual student clubs" known as Gay-Straight Alliances
  • using texts written by gay/lesbian authors

Complex issue

The issue of religious inclusion, Malloy said, is "a very complex issue, and one we can't polarize."

When religion can be accommodated, it is, he said. But removing kids from classrooms when certain subjects are discussed could compromise the mandate to "honour and celebrate each child."

And keeping track of multiple lists of demands from multiple parents regarding what is taught in classrooms is "actually impossible," Malloy said.

The Ontario Human Rights Code advocates accommodating on religious grounds "unless it causes undue hardship."

"That's the grey area," he said.