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N.L. schools stop participation in Operation Christmas Child over homophobic policies

CBC logo CBC 2017-12-01 Geoff Bartlett
Samaritan's Purse, which runs the Operation Christmas Child campaign, requires volunteers to sign a statement of faith. © CBC Samaritan's Purse, which runs the Operation Christmas Child campaign, requires volunteers to sign a statement of faith.

Schools in Newfoundland and Labrador will no longer be participating in a popular holiday charity.

The province's English School District has directed all schools to cease participation in Operation Christmas Child, a campaign which gives schools and individuals the opportunity to fill a shoebox with small gifts to send to children in need in more than 150 countries.

Newfoundland and Labrador English School District CEO Tony Stack says schools are free to choose their own charities to support, but are being asked to develop guidelines. © Gary Locke/CBC Newfoundland and Labrador English School District CEO Tony Stack says schools are free to choose their own charities to support, but are being asked to develop guidelines.

District trustees passed a motion during a public meeting on Nov. 25 to end any provincial school participation in the program after issues were raised about the policies of Samaritan's Purse, the group that runs the campaign.

"This organization is on record with its statement of beliefs that it requires its coordinating volunteers to sign statements of faith that are in direct conflict with our inclusive philosophy, particularly as it pertains to the LGBT community," said Director of Education Tony Stack.

"For example, a child with two moms or two dads unfortunately has been put in the position of choosing between fitting in and partaking with other classmates in an activity, or supporting an organization opposed to the very existence of that very child's family unit."

In May, 2016, CBC NL covered the story of Kay Cossar, a Burgeo woman who was denied a volunteer position with Operation Christmas Child because she wouldn't sign a statement of beliefs confirming that she didn't believe in same-sex marriage or a woman's right to have a legal abortion.

A volunteer packs a shoe box for Samaritan's Purse. This year, the Christian charity won't be accepting food or candy in the boxes. © CBC A volunteer packs a shoe box for Samaritan's Purse. This year, the Christian charity won't be accepting food or candy in the boxes.

Stack said the policies of Samaritan's Purse were in direct conflict with the board's Safe and Caring Schools policy, and that trustees felt there were many other charities that schools could be involved with that would be much more in step with it.

Schools asked to develop charity guidelines

While the school district will rely on the judgement of individual schools when it comes to picking charities to support in the future, the trustees are asking school staff to develop guidelines to help determine what groups to get involved with.

Stack said there has been virtually no opposition from school staff or students about ending participation, however there have been some nasty calls from the public.

"Some of these reactions have been, frankly, explicitly homophobic. So there's a disturbing element to that," he said.

"This was well-meaning, and unwittingly people were doing good work but participating in an organization that is completely misaligned with what we stand for."
 

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