The Alberta legislature is considering a law that allows parents to pull their children out of certain classes if those classes conflict with the family's religion. Many people interpreted this to mean that parents could take their children out of biology classes when evolution is being taught [see Don't Like Evolution in Alberta?].
According to an article in The Globe and Mail this may have been an over-reaction [Alberta law imperils teaching of 'religious' topics like evolution, critics fear]. While the opposition parties are incensed and the school teachers are angry, it appears that there is at least one senior government official who knows the difference between science and religion.
Frank Bruseker, head of the Alberta Teachers' Association, said he is also concerned about what the new rules could mean.I hope he (Blackett) is right and not the premier. I hope the new legislation will contain an amendment making it clear that students cannot be taken out of science classes when evolution is covered. It's nice to see so many teachers and politicians in Alberta standing up for science.
He is worried that some parents might think mentioning different classes of worms would constitute a reference to evolution.
And he said no discussion of ancient geologic formations can be had without mentioning the world is billions of years old, much more than a literal reading of the Bible would suggest.
Meanwhile, history and literature from around the world are full of references to religious upheaval.
"Religion is kind of a fuzzy thing, in a sense, in that what some people see as religion others might not," Mr. Bruseker said.
Opposition parties have hammered the government on the issue, saying the province is headed back to the time of the 1925 Scopes trial, in which a high school biology teacher in Tennessee was tried for teaching Darwin's theory of evolution.
Premier Ed Stelmach conceded to reporters last week that the provision could be used to pull students out of classes dealing with evolution if parents preferred their kids be taught what's in the Bible instead.
"The parents would have the opportunity to make that choice," he told a news conference.
But Lindsay Blackett, the minister responsible for human rights, said in an interview that the intention of the law is to allow parents to pull children out only when the curriculum specifically covers religion, something that happens for a few hours each school year.
"It's talking about religion [such as] Hindu, or Muslim, or that type of religion, not ... the curriculum with respect to, for instance, evolution," he said.
"That's science and we're not arguing science."
[Photo Credit: Minister of Culture and Community Spirit]