Supreme Court Supplants ParentsDANIEL CERE
With this month's ruling, the judges of the Supreme Court of Canada placed themselves between parents and their children and sided with those pressing for the inclusion of gay-parenting literature. The decision clearly signaled that the role of parents as primary moral guides for their children's education is now "subject to judicial review" by our nine lords of the law.
Are there no limits to the power of the nine scarlet-robed justices of the Supreme Court of Canada? On Oct. 11, Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin told an audience at McGill University that "the rule of law exerts an authoritative claim upon all aspects of selfhood and experience in a liberal democratic society ... . It makes total claims upon the self and leaves little of human experience untouched."
On Dec. 20, we found out just how intimate and intrusive this power can be. In ruling on Chamberlain vs. the Surrey School District, the judges entered the fray about what our children should be reading in kindergarten.
The case began when two gay elementary-school teachers in British Columbia pushed for the imposition of gay-parenting reading material recommended by the Gay and Lesbian Educators' Association. Parents in the Surrey School District, however, objected, arguing that such material was inappropriate for their children. The objecting parents reflected a rich cultural and religious mix, including, among others, Christians, Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus. When the Surrey School Board responded to parental concerns, the gay teachers took the issue to court. When the British Columbia Court of Appeal reaffirmed the wishes of the parents and the board, the dissatisfied teachers pressed on to the Supreme Court of Canada.
With this month's ruling, the judges of the Supreme Court of Canada placed themselves between parents and their children and sided with those pressing for the inclusion of gay-parenting literature. The decision clearly signaled that the role of parents as primary moral guides for their children's education is now "subject to judicial review" by our nine lords of the law. Dissenting Justices Charles Gonthier and Michel Bastarache tried valiantly to rein in this latest act of judicial activism. But to no avail.
This judgment advanced a judicial crusade to mandate a form of sexual relativism as the moral code for Canadian society. John Fisher, director of Égale, Canada's major gay and lesbian advocacy group, celebrated the ruling as "an unequivocal victory" for "lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Canadians ... in that it affirms the right of children to a bias-free curriculum that teaches the values of equality, tolerance and respect for diversity."
According to this view, a form of sexual pluralism must be imposed upon the malleable hearts and minds of our 5- and 6-year-old children. Chief Justice McLachlin comforts us with the reassuring words that this kind of enforced sexual tolerance and relativism is "always age-appropriate." In its paternal wisdom, the Supreme Court now requires that the winds of relativism blow freely through their little lives while the cold hand of the law firmly shuts the door to parental concerns and expectations.
This decision pushes public education into a moral corner by arguing that the "lawfulness" of diverse sexual lifestyles and family forms pressures us to concede their moral or social equality. There is a heated "adult" controversy about the relative merits of different family forms and this argument is far from settled. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court's decision shoulders into this debate and argues that our kindergarten children must be brought up to speed on alternative lifestyles. The justices conclude that five and six-year old children should learn the language of "diversity" and be instructed on the "equal validity" of "alternative family forms." Through their duly elected school board, parents did voice their concern that this kind of approach was going too far. Their wrists were slapped by the highest court in the land.
Our judges appear to be interpreting the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to mean that they now have magisterial authority over wide domains of public morality.
Who gave them this sweeping authority? What wisdom, what right, do these lawyers have to determine fundamental moral questions? Who knows? But it seems that our schools, families, parliaments and religious traditions must now defer to the authority of the courts as judges systematically enforce their cherished values into intimate nooks and crannies of our public lives and controversies.
The role of our public institutions now seems to be confined to implementing a thin, moralizing and doctrinaire liberalism emanating from these legal elites.
The majority opinion did give a polite nod to the existence of alternative moral visions stemming from religious traditions. However, in the McLachlin court "freedom of religion" is vaporized into a myriad of conflicting subjective convictions that effectively cancel each other out. The robust trees of our religious and cultural traditions are cut down and relativized in order to make way for a new moral matrix that celebrates and entrenches diversity as an end in itself.
The fact that the Supreme Court dares to place its judicial hands on the moral lives of our 5- and 6-year-old children does seem particularly shocking. However, it can be read as part of our broader cultural project to deregulate sexuality and marriage. The project of deconstruction is advanced in the name of all kinds of good things, like "tolerance," "respect," "diversity" and so on. But the long and the short of it is that the ordinary life of marriage and family carries no real weight. It must be repositioned as one somewhat quaint and dated product in the ever-expanding sexual market of adult options. Customary codes that dare to suggest a moral tempering of ever-expanding adult choices are dismissed as judgmental and stigmatizing.
The Chamberlain vs. Surrey decision is one more chapter in the big-tent sexual relativism that is now being mandated as the law of the land. Even the tiniest of tykes must be taken aside and properly instructed in these slippery values.
For some time the courts have been busy appropriating the role of our parliamentarians and legislators. Now parents are shoved aside as our imperious judges step forward as guides for the moral formation of our children.
Daniel Cere. "Supreme Court Supplants Parents." Montreal Gazette (December 30, 2002).
This article is a revised version of an article which appeared in the Montreal Gazette December 30, 2002. It is reprinted with permission of the Montreal Gazette and Daniel Cere.
Daniel Cere teaches Catholic Studies at McGill University and is Director of the Newman Institute of Catholic Studies.
Copyright © 2002
Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.