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Religious freedom does not include anti-gay flyers to children

Nova Scotia court upholds ruling against fundamentalist Christian

The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal says a fundamentalist Christian man went too far when he distributed homophobic pamphlets to children on school property. Credit: yelo34/Thinkstock

Freedom of religion does not extend to distributing religious pamphlets condemning homosexuality at an elementary school during school hours, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal ruled Aug 26, upholding a provincial supreme court ruling.

The earlier ruling held that some of the materials fundamentalist Christian Sean Bonitto wanted to distribute specifically stated that homosexuality and worshiping another God were sins which would lead to eternal damnation if not repented from.

Halifax Regional School Board policy says distribution of materials at the school requires the principal’s approval.

Another policy says religious instruction on school premises may only occur outside the regular school day.

“The principal declined to approve Mr Bonitto’s distribution and asked Mr Bonitto to desist,” the appeal ruling said.

Bonito sued in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia and lost. He was ordered to pay costs in the case in November 2014.

As the school’s students come from families with over 50 languages and cultures, various religious denominations, and that one-quarter of them are Muslim, Justice Pierre Muise expressed concern about the impact such pamphlets might have on students of same-sex parents or non-Christian faiths.

It would send a message to them that there was something wrong with them and/or their parents, Muise ruled.

In upholding Muise’s ruling, the Nova Scotia appeal court ruled that Bonitto’s message is that non-Christians will burn in a sea of flames for eternity.

Witnesses for the Halifax school board held the view that elementary students, especially non-Christians, hearing this on school steps would entertain an unsettling distraction from their classwork. The message would undermine the “orderly and safe learning environment” and the “positive and inclusive school climate” proclaimed by the preamble to the Education Act.

Muise noted that the school has accommodated Bonitto’s request that his children not be exposed to materials or teachings that run contrary to his fundamentalist Christian beliefs, by allowing them to be exempt from sessions, activities and materials relating to things like Halloween, the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, the occult, magic, homosexuality and transgender issues.

Evidence before the court said imagery in some of Bonitto’s pamphlets included a cat being sacrificed with a knife, a human figure wearing a pumpkin on its head carrying a chainsaw with a caption that it wanted a human as a sacrifice, a person being thrown over a cliff and someone celebrating that happening, references to muscles being sliced wide open and blood spurting and a detailed medical description of the injuries inflicted during crucifixion and the body’s reaction to those injuries.

The appeal ruling noted Bonitto had told the court he would persist even if he lost the appeal.