Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. schools stop participation in Operation Christmas Child over homophobic policies

Schools in Newfoundland and Labrador will no longer be participating in a popular holiday charity.

Director of Education Tony Stack says values of charity not in line with those of school district

Many schools in Newfoundland and Labrador have been participating in the Operation Christmas Child shoebox campaign for years. Now the province's English school district has directed its schools to end that affiliation. (CBC)

Schools in Newfoundland and Labrador will no longer be participating in a popular holiday charity.

Some of these reactions have been, frankly, explicitly homophobic.- Tony Stack

The province's English School District has directed all schools to cease participation in Operation Christmas Child, a campaign that gives schools and individuals the opportunity to fill a shoebox with small gifts to send to children in need in more than 150 countries.

The campaign is a project of Samaritan's Purse, a non-denominational evangelical organization.

District trustees voted at a public meeting on Nov. 25 to end any provincial school participation in the program after concerns were raised about the policies of Samaritan's Purse.

Newfoundland and Labrador English School District CEO Tony Stack says schools are free to choose their own charities to support, but are being asked to develop guidelines. (Gary Locke/CBC)

"This organization is on record with its statement of beliefs that it requires its co-ordinating volunteers to sign statements of faith that are in direct conflict with our inclusive philosophy, particularly as it pertains to the LGBT community," said director of education Tony Stack.

"For example, a child with two moms or two dads, unfortunately, has been put in the position of choosing between fitting in and partaking with other classmates in an activity, or supporting an organization opposed to the very existence of that very child's family unit."

Organization against gay marriage, trans rights

In a statement to CBC News, the organization said it asks volunteers to sign a "statement of faith," confirming their beliefs are in line with the "infallible word of God."

Among the beliefs in the statement are that "human sexuality is to be expressed only within the contexts of marriage," and that real marriage is only between a "genetic male and genetic female."

Samaritan's Purse, which runs the Operation Christmas Child campaign, requires volunteers to sign a statement of faith. (CBC)

"We included these specifics in our statement of faith NOT because our views on these issues have changed, but simply because the world's views has changed to the point where we felt the need to remind our volunteers," a spokesperson for the organization wrote.

In May 2016, CBC NL covered the story of Kay Cossar, a Burgeo woman who was denied a volunteer position with Operation Christmas Child because she wouldn't sign a statement of beliefs confirming that she didn't believe in same-sex marriage or a woman's right to have a legal abortion.

Stack said the policies of Samaritan's Purse were in direct conflict with the board's Safe and Caring Schools policy, and that trustees felt there were many other charities that schools could be involved with that would be much more in step with it.

Schools asked to develop charity guidelines

While the school district will rely on the judgment of individual schools when it comes to picking charities to support in the future, trustees are asking school staff to develop guidelines to help determine what groups to get involved with.

Stack said there has been virtually no opposition from school staff or students about ending participation, but there have been some nasty calls from the public.

"Some of these reactions have been, frankly, explicitly homophobic. So there's a disturbing element to that," he said.

"This was well-meaning, and unwittingly people were doing good work but participating in an organization that is completely misaligned with what we stand for."

With files from Central Morning Show