Christian father sues Ontario school board for 'religious accommodation'

An Ontario father is taking his local school board to court, demanding the right to remove his children from courses that do not adhere to his family’s religious stance on marriage and sexuality.

Steve Tourloukis, a Hamilton dentist, says the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board refused to give him advance warning when lessons for his two children conflict with the teachings of their religion.

“It is important for my children to be taught about these issues from a Christian perspective,” he told a news conference on Monday.

“As a Christian, I hold a sincere religious belief that I am required, by God and the Greek Orthodox Church, to raise my children according to biblical principles and the tenants of the Christian faith.”

Tourloukis is the father of a daughter in Grade 1 and a son in Grade 4, and his wife is a teacher in the same school board. Tourloukis says his traditional Greek Orthodox faith guides his family’s views on marriage, family and human sexuality.

According to the case, to be heard by the Superior Court of Ontario, Tourloukis is demanding the school board provide him with advanced notice of any lessons or material that conflict with his “sincerely held religious beliefs,” and allow him to remove his children from class.

“I have never been an advocate for ignorance. This is not about me merely objecting to ideas that I don’t like. I teach my kids that everybody is made in the image of God, including people from the gay community,” he said.

“I teach my kids not to condemn anybody. In fact, to condemn anybody in my faith is a sin.”

His lawyer, Albertos Polizogopoulos, said the Greek Orthodox church holds traditional views on the subjects.

“The Greek Orthodox Church holds certain views on marriage, traditional Christian marriage, and so … he wants to teach his children about marriage through a Greek Orthodox lense,” Polizogopoulos said.

Tourloukis said he is not seeking money or even an apology, only the same religious accommodation afforded to other groups, suggesting Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims are allowed to leave class during certain activities.

“The school board, it seems, has no interest in working with my family,” Tourloukis said. “This does not seem consistent with how the board has treated other groups. It has found ways to accommodate these other groups.”

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board has been reached for comment but has yet to respond.

However, Education Minister Laurel Broten told The Canadian Press that the province’s curriculum is “evidence-based” and must be taught in all Ontario schools.

"We are confident and stand by our curriculum and all boards across the province have religious accommodation protocols that they put in place at a local level," she said.

Tourloukis said the school board told him removing his children from class could be discriminatory toward other students. He claims the board suggested he remove his children from the board entirely.

He said it is his responsibility as the children’s primary caregiver to ensure they abstain from certain activities and behaviours, including taking courses that promote views contrary to his beliefs.

“I don’t begrudge anybody their religious accommodations. In fact, more power to them. I am asking for what they routinely do for other groups,” he said.