Alberta school division severs ties with Christian school over Bible censorship dispute

A bible, opened to the Book of Job, is seen in this 2009 file photo. Eli Meir Kaplan/Getty Images

Following an eight-week dispute over proposed Bible teachings, the Battle River School Division Board (BRSD) has announced it plans to cut ties with the Cornerstone Christian Academy (CCA), which is located near Camrose, Alta.

According to the BRSD, trustees attended a special meeting on Thursday at which they voted in favour of “bringing their current relationship with the Cornerstone Christian Academy Society to an end.” The board said it hopes the move will create an opportunity for a fresh start for the public school board to lay the groundwork for a “new working relationship.”

“Trustees spoke to the increasingly difficult dynamics between themselves and the Cornerstone Society Board,” the BRSD said in a news release. “They acknowledged that both parties must take responsibility for the current state of affairs.”

A little over two weeks ago, legal advocates for the CCA allleged the BRSD was trying to censor what parts of the Bible the school could teach to its students. At the time, a spokesperson for the school board said trustees were concerned some biblical verses the school planned to use in a student handbook may contravene Alberta’s human rights legislation.

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READ MORE: Camrose Christian school may battle school division over Bible teachings

Watch below: On June 15, 2017, Fletcher Kent filed this report as a Christian school southeast of Edmonton and a public school board were sorting out their differences over Bible teachings.

Click to play video: 'Alberta Christian school battles school division over Bible teachings' Alberta Christian school battles school division over Bible teachings
Alberta Christian school battles school division over Bible teachings – Jun 15, 2017

Cornerstone Christian Academy Society board chair Deanna Margel said the handbook reference was a scriptural footnote in an updated statement of faith.

One reference was to 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:

9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,

10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

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11 And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.

The second reference was from Galations 5: 19-24:

19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,

20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,

21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

24 And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.

“As a school system, we have an obligation: we need to follow the School Act and human rights legislation, ” Diane Hutchinson said on June 14. “As a public school division, we have that obligation and it is our obligation to ensure that our schools are also compliant.”

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According to Margel, the school later agreed to drop the controversial verses from the handbook but feared the division still wanted to limit what Bible verses the school could teach.

The BRSD said Thursday’s vote passed a motion “to terminate the agreement between BRSD and Cornerstone Christian Academy Society, with the stipulation that the committee remain in place to work towards establishing a new agreement if the Cornerstone Society is willing to work together to develop an agreement that incorporates the content of the draft addendum related to working relationships and communication protocols.”

The board also said its master agreement with the Cornerstone Christian Academy Society provides for a 365-day “transition period” once the agreement is terminated.

“I believe that BRSD and CCA can work together to reach an agreement that is acceptable to both parties,” trustee Kendall Severson said in a statement.

“This is not a decision we have reached lightly,” Severson added. “As a board, we were very pleased to welcome Cornerstone to our school family back in 2009.”

“The most important thing is to keep talking,” trustee Rebecca Heiberg said in a statement.

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), an organization that says its mission is to protect free speech, had been advocating for the Cornerstone Christian Academy as it sought to protect its right to use any Bible verses.

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On Friday, the JCCF described the BRSD’s decision as being the result of the board trying to “unsuccessfully to impose a confidentiality agreement on the society.”

According to the JCCF, just days earlier, the BRSD and the school had come to an agreement in which the board agreed to not censor the use of the Bible at the school. However, the JCCF accused the BRSD of trying to impose a gag order that would “prohibit public disclosure of information in the future.”

“We are deeply saddened by the BRSD’s decision to terminate our agreement,” Margel said in a statement Friday. “(It) makes no sense if they truly desire to continue working together. It seems unwise, and completely unnecessary, to throw away years of productive co-operation in mere weeks because we’ve simply hit an unusual bump in the road.

“Nonetheless, as parents of students at CCA, it is still our goal to achieve a positive working relationship with the division and keep Cornerstone Christian Academy open past June 2018.”

“First (the BRSD) demanded censorship of offensive Bible verses, then it attempted to impose confidentiality on the organization representing CCA families,” lawyer John Carpay, president of the JCCF, said in a statement on Friday.

-With files from 630 CHED’s Eileen Bell

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