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Freedom Does Not Come Cheap Or Easy

freedom-does-not-come-cheap-or-easy Home education freedoms on solid ground

Home education history may not be well known today, but we should realize the rights that we have today did not come cheaply or easily. Understanding how some of our philosophy driven freedoms came about due to the fact that another pastor went to jail in the late 1980's is a timely consideration. Pastors are sometimes defenders of liberties for society when it comes to government overreach because of their bedrock beliefs being enacted in their leadership positions. Like events of today, the issue was whether or not the government's permission was needed in order to take the actions motivated by the dictates of faith.

Words are important to home educators. So important that sometimes we've said we are "word sensitive" when it comes to interacting with the government in addressing policy. This is because so much can ride on the interpretation of a single word or small clause being properly placed or understood. Home educators have a unique and rather specific bunch of terms that we utilize to bring awareness to a deeper meaning, many hard won. An example of this is the word notify...

Do you know why you "notify" the government, instead of "register," your intentions to educate your children? It is because of Pastor Larry Jones, who was a pastor of the Western Baptist Church in Calgary. He believed that it was wrong for the government to insist he have a license to educate his children at the church academy he started. Getting a license was the same as getting permission in his view. He felt permission couldn't be granted in good conscience by the government unless it was in a position to give it. Pastor Jones was steadfastly convinced that the permission was God's to give, not needing further endorsement to validate its legitimacy.

This created an impasse that worked its way through the courts. Jones was charged with aiding truancy but his case was won twice in the lower courts and lost on appeal. The case then went up to the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) and their 1986 ruling said that "the province, and indeed the nation, has a compelling interest in the 'efficient instruction' of the young" and that the requirement to get a license "constitutes a minimal, or as the trial judge put it, peripheral intrusion on religion." [1]Ted Byfield commented on the issue of parental rights being on trial in his Alberta Report, saying that "when Mr. Jones lost, all parents lost."[2]

It seemed to be the end of the matter, except to look for the silver lining. Dallas Miller, now an Alberta judge, believed that there was benefit as the SCC ended up addressing parental rights, creating some new parameters, resulting in a benefit for us all in a broad sense. He said that the "case does, however, set some guidelines for individual liberty and freedom in terms of educating one's own children and the extent of the 'compelling interest' of the state." [3] He referenced how the judgement clarified how those limits would be in play, as the SCC itself said that "if it can be established that the school authorities' action is exercised in an unfair or arbitrary manner, then the courts can intervene. It may also be that at some stage certain requirements, whether imposed directly by the School Act or by regulations or by official of the Department of Education or of local school boards, may have to give way to the liberty of the individual to educate his children as he pleases to the extent that such liberty is protected by the Charter."[4]

The government took another run at Pastor Jones' resolve and charged him with truancy again in 1987, as well as bringing a civil case to close the academy. He was convicted of truancy and the decision resulted in him being sentenced to a 30-day jail term, which he took instead of getting a license or paying the alternative $250 fine. He ended up serving 10 days. However, in the end, he didn't lose the war as the government's approach had resulted in a mounting public pressure that was becoming a political embarrassment. The Christian citizenry was making their voice heard over the issue. Somehow, the government found a way to come to an understanding and his position on educating his children, and other students at the academy, was respected without a license that violated his sincerely held beliefs.

We need to note that the issue largely centred on the battle for control by government efforts to supplant parental rights. The questions of who is ultimately responsible for the children and to whom they belong needed to be clear to both parents and the government for there to be a resolution about their education. Jones' lawyer, Philip Carr, had made the following statement. "God owns the children. He loans them to their parents. As such, children are a gift from God to parents. They are not a gift from God to the government, nor from government to the parents. The government has no role in the raising of children except in the case of imminent peril where children's lives are in danger."[5]

Jones himself made this astute observation. "The state is not primarily concerned about the quality of the education as much as they [sic] are about being in control… Quality education is not the issue. The state wants control of our children, the [sic] want us to submit to Caesar in every area of our lives. We will not give to the [sic] Caesar the things that belong to God."[6] A more detailed account can be found here[7], but it seems apparent that even the state knows when it has met its match in resolve and in the past has shown respect, even grudgingly, to the unmoving nature of a spiritually held position.

There are numerous examples of this throughout history that are not limited to the Christian faith, for people like Gandhi come to mind, or the famous American, "Give me liberty or give me death" quotation attributed to Patrick Henry. Another example, oft forgotten in its significance because we only know the resulting work so well, is John Bunyan. The author of the famous book, Pilgrim's Progress, wrote it from jail, as he had declined to comply with government regulations surrounding religious gatherings. He stayed, out of principle, for 12 years, and is known to have said, "If you release me today, I will preach tomorrow." Sometimes your principles will cost you something, and the more they cost the dearer you hold them. These costs are what have produced the freedoms that we enjoy, often unthinkingly, today.

Home educators should know that our very ability to home educate is based on hard won freedoms. Men have given their lives so that Canada could be a free country. We live in a constitutional democracy, which means that the Charter protects the freedom to hold a minority position, instead of a pure democracy in which the majority position dictates outcomes, like mob rule. What an important thing for us to understand, since we are a minority group!

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms describes fundamental freedoms in Section 2, guaranteeing:

a.  freedom of conscience and religion;
b.  freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression;
c.  freedom of peaceful assembly; and
d.  freedom of association.

If home education were to be considered a bicycle, our wheels are (a) and (b) of Section 2. This is where we would go to defend ourselves in court. And ultimately, win or lose there, we must know why and how it is necessary to take a principled stand on issues. Being able to teach our children, acting on the trust God has put in us when we were given these gifts, has been a life altering decision for every home educator. If you want to continue to enjoy this freedom, take heart and take a stand when you see our tricycle getting a flat tire. Your voice and actions in defending these legal protections is not something to take for granted. I implore you to connect the dots before any direct impact is felt on your home education freedoms or your larger freedoms as Canadians. Infringement on one person's enjoyment of them is actually an infringement on all of us. We must stand, together, or we will fall, apart. Check out 1 John 3:18 and Philippians 1:27 for some biblical encouragement.

Nothing can make us so aware of a loss as watching a society become desensitized to what is happening around them. Closing quotes are from a speech that was given by Jason Kenney December 1, 2014 that he titled Conscience Versus the Spirit of the Age.[8] I'd recommend that you read it in full.

"Representative democracy, our heritage of liberty and the rule of law—all this depends upon a correct understanding of the proper spheres of authority and the limited competencies of state authority."

"One does not need to be a Christian or a person of faith to recognize that trampling on the rights of conscience can open a path to the abuse of power. We Canadians have been blessed to have been spared those consequences because our tradition of the limited State recognizes that the rights of conscience must be respected. Indeed, the first liberty listed in our Charter is found in section 2(a), freedom of conscience and religion, which is an echo of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that "everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion…"

"In the totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, the principle that force predominates over reason was carried to the extreme. Man was compelled to submit to a conception of reality imposed on him by coercion, and not reached by virtue of his own reason and the exercise of his own freedom. This principle must be overturned and total recognition must be given to the rights of the human conscience, which is bound only to the truth, both natural and revealed."

"A Canadian premier said she found the very idea of conscience rights—rights enshrined in the Charter, rights written into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, rights broadly regarded as foundational to liberal democracy—to be "frightening."

"Here allow me to make another point. Robustly defending the rights of conscience is not something that is good for legislators alone; much less is it special pleading for people of faith in the public square. It is something that is essential for the health of the entire political system."

[1] pg. 19 para 28

[2] Byfield, T. "Jones lost, parents lost, but dear old P-BOG wins again." Alberta Report Oct. 1986 pg. 52

[3] Miller, D. "1999 Legal Memorandum on Home Education in the Province of Alberta" Court Report and Communiqué. Jan/Feb 2000 pg. 10-13

[4] pg. 28 para 47

[5] Carr, P.E. "Christian Education in Canada" Biblical Baptist Fundamentalist December, 1987, pg. 7

[6] Jones, L. "Larry Jones' Position on Education." Biblical Baptist Fundamentalist January, 1987, pg. 11

[7] Wagner, M. "Refusing to be Licensed" Embrace the Spirit Winter, 1999


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