An atheist family in Canada whose child was barred from re-enrolling in her preschool after the parents objected to the inclusion of Christmas traditions in the classroom was awarded $12,000 Canadian dollars (approximately $9,000 in U.S. currency) in damages last week by order of a human rights tribunal.
Gary Mangel and Mai Yasué sued the Bowen Island Montessori School in British Columbia, just north of Vancouver, after the school asked them to sign a letter agreeing to the school’s multicultural curriculum, which included making Christmas ornaments in class, as a precondition for their daughter re-enrolling.
CNN reported, “The dispute began in November 2014 when the parents, who volunteered on the school board, complained about plans for the preschoolers to decorate elf ornaments.
“When other members of the school board suggested also including Hannukah activities during the holiday season, Mangel said he objected to any religion in the curriculum.”
Mangel is of Jewish ancestry and his wife is of Japanese heritage, and they are raising their daughter in an atheist home.
In addition to the elf ornaments, the couple also expressed concern that the book “This is the Stable” about the birth of Christ was being read to the children.
According to the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal ruling, a tense email exchange between Mangel and the school ensued over the next months.
In one email, Mangel included an attachment depicting “atheist Christmas ornaments.”
“One ornament simply displays the word ‘Skeptic.’ while another defines the word ‘Atheist’ as ‘(n) someone who believes in one fewer god than you do. (Seriously that’s all there is to it),'” according to the tribunal. “Some of the ornaments are more provocative. For example, one depicts the twin towers of the World Trade Center with the caption, ‘Atheists don’t fly airplanes into buildings.'”
Carlos Henriques, a fellow parent at the school, pressed Mangel on how far his removal of all religious references from the classroom would go, asking if he objected to public schools singing the Canadian national anthem “O Canada,” because it includes the word “God.”
Mangel responded: “‘I’ll sue them too’ and then began doing the Nazi salute and marching around while he sung a different version of O Canada in which he substituted his own lyrics,” by Henriques’ account.
While the tribunal found some of Mangel’s reported behavior objectionable, it nonetheless awarded his child $2,000, and each parent received $5,000.
Tribunal member Barbara Korenkiewicz stated the case, “At its core, it is about a letter which held [the child’s] registration hostage to a demand.”
However, the tribunal also affirmed the private school’s right to include religious material in the classroom.
Korenkiewicz wrote that to remove all religious references from the curriculum would rob the children of the opportunity to learn about other cultures and faith traditions.
Maria Turnbull, the school board chair, told Fox News over the weekend that the school’s curriculum is “multicultural,” and said BIMS was pleased the tribunal found it to be “appropriate.” She said the school wishes the child’s parents well and “hopes to get back to its mission” of teaching kids.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.