An atheist family who fought against religious holiday celebrations in the classroom has been awarded $12,000 by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, after their child was barred from re-enrolling at a preschool.
Tribunal member Barbara Korenkiewicz said in her decision Tuesday that the dispute centred around an agreement the parents were told to sign by Bowen Island Montessori School, which confirmed their “understanding and acceptance” of all parts of the school’s cultural program.
If they didn’t sign it, the school said their daughter could not return in the fall.
The dispute started in 2014 when Gary Mangel and May Yasue found out that their daughter’s preschool would be decorating elf ornaments and possibly lighting candles on a menorah during the month of December.
Mangel, who was on the board of directors for the school, wrote an email to fellow board members calling the plans inappropriate for the students “given their absolute inability to understand the religious and political symbolism associated with those acts,” according to the ruling.
“I certainly hope that there will be no discussion of Santa Claus at BIMS. I am absolutely against anyone blatantly lying to my daughter,” he said in the email.
Mangelsuggested students also make “atheist Christmas ornaments” to represent the views of his family. Ideas included one that says “skeptic” and another that would say “Atheists don’t fly airplanes into buildings,” with the World Trade Center.
Mangel said other religious or political events, including Remembrance Day, were also not appropriate. He and Yasue later said Valentine’s Day should also not be allowed, because it’s tied up in materialism and consumerism.
Email exchanges between the couple and board members continued for several months, according to the decision. The tribunal heard that a fellow board member found the emails “patronizing and aggressive.”
Mangel’s views on religion were also shared with a school administrator’s husband in person, the tribunal heard, including his thoughts on the use of “God” in Canada’s national anthem.
When asked what Mangel was going to do about O Canada, he said he’d sue the school. The administrator’s husband replied that his son also sings the national anthem at his public school.
According to the tribunal, Mangel replied “I’ll sue them too” before doing the Nazi salute and marching around while he sung a different version of the anthem. The tribunal heard that this made the other man uncomfortable.
Mangel told the tribunal that his actions were not politically correct, and instead a flippant “off the cuff” remark.
Despite Mangel’s actions, which Korenkiewicz called “beyond the acceptable,” the school forcing the parents to sign the agreement in 2015 was discriminatory of race, ancestry and religion.
“I find nothing in the evidence that could justify the refusal to register [the child] unless Dr. Yasue and Mr. Mangel essentially agreed that they would be significantly limited in their ability to raise issues about the cultural aspects of the BIMS program,” Korenkiewicz wrote.
She ruled that the school must pay the the child $2,000 and each parent $5,000 as compensation.