Guaranteed vs. absolute rights

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In response to Peter Ratcliff’s letter on transgender church issues, I would like to highlight a court case from Alberta in R v. Keegstra to illustrate a point. Mr. Keegstra was a history teacher who taught and tested his students on his personal belief that the Holocaust was fabricated by Jewish people solely to gain sympathy. The court case that ensued pitted Mr. Keegstra’s Charter of Rights and Freedom section 1 guarantee of free speech against the Crown and section 2(b) that guarantees freedom of thought, belief and opinion in addition to freedom of expression. The reason I use this example is to highlight a concept of guaranteed vs. absolute rights. Peter Ratcliff insinuates that religious based teaching rights should not be guaranteed while Jan Buterman should be entitled to absolute rights.

John Carpay wrote an excellent piece in the National Post called “Religious schools have every legal right to enforce the tenets of their faiths” that explains the legal rights in Canada of faith based schools. Within the article the Supreme Court case of Caldwell v. Stuart is mentioned. This case involves the termination of a teacher for her actions that were contrary to Catholic teaching about marriage and sexuality. This case set a precedent in that it allowed for a certain level of discrimination to occur by religious based educational institutions as part of a bona fide occupational requirement. Basically teachers can be legally terminated not for who they are but instead for their actions if they violate the religious tenets or code of conduct of the faith based school.

I do not know if the firing of Jan Buterman was legally correct or not. I do know that the situation does present a conflict of rights between faith based schools and Jan Buterman’s personal rights. I do feel strongly though that the court of public opinion is not the correct place to decide this issue and I wholeheartedly support the use of taxpayer dollars to get a legal ruling on this matter. History has shown that when a conflict occurs between two guaranteed conflicting rights that the courts are the best place to find an answer. If we did not trust the courts and allowed ones’ personal rights to be absolute, then we would have had generations of Alberta students subjected to the anti-Semitic teachings of Mr. Keegstra with no recourse. Failing to let this matter go through the courts would be ironic though as language arts classes would have to teach the children the words “bigotry” and “intolerance” to explain Peter Ratcliff’s view of tolerance (no pun intended).

Mike Zapchek, St. Albert

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