religious fanatics targeting Toronto high school kids

The Globe and Mail

Outside Danforth Collegiate and Technical Institute at lunchtime on Tuesday, a demonstrator calls out to two boys crossing the street.

“What do you think about abortion?”

“People have rights,” one of the boys responds.

“Yeah – babies too, right?”

He is one of eight protestors carrying signs with pictures of aborted fetuses, standing just off the property of the unsuspecting high school. They would have preferred to speak at an assembly, but public schools, they say, tend to be resistant to their message.

This scene has been playing out with regularity on sidewalks and intersections outside Toronto high schools since earlier this year – and the group is set to expand its campaign to schools across the Greater Toronto Area. Anti-abortionists are a familiar sight on university campuses, but lately they are focused on a younger, much more impressionable audience, hoping to recruit a new generation of campaigners. The brazen tactic used by the pro-life group, the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, has angered parents and students, and left the Toronto District School Board in an uncomfortable, frustrating position.

“There’s nothing we can do; they stand off school property,” said spokeswoman Shari Schwartz-Maltz. “If members of the community take exception to what they’re saying or their tactics, they are absolutely encouraged to phone the police.”

The group has been visiting Toronto high schools five days a week since February, informing students about abortion, said Stephanie Gray, executive director of the pro-life group. They don’t disclose their locations beforehand. Ms. Gray said the strategy of reaching out to young people in high schools has been successful in Calgary, when it began two years ago.

Some Toronto parents are fuming, not only at the presence of the pro-life group but also because the TDSB hasn’t informed them of the group making the rounds outside secondary schools. “They send us a letter home if some kid has lice. They send us a letter home if there’s been a shooting. Why hasn’t anything been sent home saying ‘Just in case you’re not aware, there is a pro-life group that has been picketing various high schools, and we’ve told kids not to engage’?” asked Adriana Christopoulos. The group showed up at her daughter’s school, Vaughan Road Academy, a few weeks back.

Near Danforth Collegiate earlier this week, the demonstrators showed bloody pictures of aborted fetuses in the first trimester with the word “Choice?” displayed on top, “redefining” – as the organizers say – the message of abortion-rights advocates. A police officer shielded a little girl riding her tricycle from the grotesque images. Many students trickling out of the school ignored the group, but a few questioned, listened, agreed. Others, mainly boys, were infuriated by the presence of a pro-life group. As the discussion heated up, school administrators pull them away.

Arthur Morris was so angry, he was shaking. “I don’t have a problem with them protesting. Freedom of speech, I’m all for that. But I have a problem with this, these images, right outside of school,” said the 16-year-old. “Don’t force your religion, and it’s largely a religious thing, don’t force your religion onto others.”

“I think it’s ridiculous,” said Hayden McKinnon, 18. He added: “They’re at a high school. They’re showing pictures of dead fetuses right on the corner… I think all women should have a choice.”

Except for an incident in March outside Harbord Collegiate Institute, where a coffee shop owner was reportedly charged with assaulting anti-abortion demonstrators, the visits are generally peaceful. The group has now visited more than 60 TDSB secondary schools. Students, Ms. Gray said, have changed their minds on abortion after speaking with her staff, all between the ages of 19 and 28. She has noticed that on return visits to schools, for example, some of who were pro-choice on a first visit are now pro-life.

“It’s young people speaking with young people about the killing of young people,” Ms. Gray said. “Our philosophy is: old enough to have” – to conceive a baby – “old enough to see.”

Kerry Bowman, a professor of bioethics at the University of Toronto, worries that vulnerable students are being targeted by a group that is not providing information, but rather using manipulative language and advertising techniques to recruit.

“When you combine the manipulative techniques with a population that is still forming their values and beliefs, I see an ethical red flag going up,” Prof. Bowman said. “You’re really playing to win. It’s not a just a question of informing people about this issue; it’s much more manipulative.”

School boards are in a difficult position, especially when the pro-life message floods their doorstep. Schools do not know how to teach students about the abortion issue, nor would they be considered neutral for debating it in classrooms.

Ms. Christopoulos said schools have a responsibility, however, to inform the community. Her 16-year-old daughter did not think much of the group showing up at her high school. Ms. Christopoulos was furious that her daughter and her friends were being targeted.

“I think it’s inappropriate. If you want to make a point, then I think you should be approaching people who are in a position to be making those kind of decisions,” she said. “I don’t think my 16-year-old daughter is.”

Sophia Investigates The Good News Club

Religious exhortation and telling people, telling children, that if they don’t do the right thing, they’ll go to terrifying punishments or unbelievable rewards, that’s making a living out of lying to children. That’s what the priesthood do. And if all they did was lie to the children, it would be bad enough. But they rape them and torture them and then hope we’ll call it ‘abuse’.

Christopher Hitchens




Schools teaching ‘violent crucifixion material’




PRIMARY school children think they will “burn in hell” and are tormented by gruesome images of Jesus on the Cross after having religious instruction classes, parents say.

Dozens of Queensland families have complained about the public school classes to Macquarie University researcher Dr Catherine Byrne.

One parent said their six-year-old child was shown “graphic and violent crucifixion material”.

“(He) suffered nightmares and anxiety about death for 10 months – he believed everything he was being told – including that he would burn in hell,” they said.

Another parent said they had tried to withdraw their child from religious instruction but their seven-year-old daughter kept being put back in. After learning about atrocities in the Bible, they say their daughter was told “the Jews had it coming to them”.


Another parent said the child of the religious instruction teacher told their son he would burn in hell before stabbing him with a pencil.


Dr Byrne is collecting stories from people who have made or are considering making a formal complaint. It will be compiled for a post-doctoral research project on religion in public education.

She said she’s spoken to about 24 Queensland families, as well as many more NSW families in the past, and that there are nation-wide problems with religious education.

“This is a national problem and a national disgrace,” she said.

“I would say these parents are just the tip of the iceberg. A lot of parents are frightened (about speaking out) because this is their kid’s school, they don’t want to put their education at risk.

“They’re not sure who to talk to about it (and) many parents would be completely unaware of what’s happening.”

The Anglican Church of Australia’s Brisbane Diocese, which trains some of the state’s religious education teachers, said its curriculum did not mention hell, divorce, Creationism or other contentious topics and that in its experience people going “off topic” were “isolated cases”.

“Specific training for teachers targets handling contentious off-topic questions and using language carefully to be inclusive of different beliefs,” a spokesman said.

“Whilst there may be cases of RE teachers going off-topic, the Diocese’s experience is that these are isolated cases.

“The vast majority of RE teachers are caring people only interested in ensuring a rounded education for Queensland children and young people. Such a rounded education includes the field of religion, a major shaping influence in diverse areas such as history, the arts and our communities.”

Dr Byrne’s earlier research in NSW found children were told that worshipping “fake gods” other than the Christian God was a sin, that other countries have “disgusting customs” and that “God gets angry at men who marry foreign women”.

There were reports in 2010 that Queensland primary school children were taught Creationism; that man and dinosaurs walked the Earth together.

RI is optional in Queensland but parents complain that children who opt out of the classes are left unsupervised, that children are enticed in with lollies, and one family is considering homeschooling so they don’t feel “odd” for opting out of RI.

RI is separate to the Government’s controversial chaplaincy program.

Dr Byrne said children should learn about other faiths without being indoctrinated. She described Australia as “pathetically behind the times” because other countries can teach religion on a secular way.

“Public schooling is not for indoctrination,” she said.

“It’s about critical thinking, learning about the world around you, learning about kids who are different to you.”

She said she had met with government officials but they were “too frightened” about losing the Christian lobby vote to intervene.

Education Queensland told that schools must allow religious instruction and that parents are free to withdraw their children from classes at any time.

“RI is only to be provided to students in state primary, secondary and special schools whose parents have nominated that faith group on enrollment or to students whose parents have given written permission for their children to attend,” Assistant Director General Marg Pethiyagoda said.

“State schools respect the background and beliefs of all students and staff by not promoting, or being perceived as promoting, any particular set of beliefs in preference to another.”