‘SHOULD A PERSON OF “RELIGIOUS FAITH” BE ELECTED TO PUBLIC OFFICE?”
Alberta Premier Jim Prentice’s appointment of Gordon Dirks as Alberta’s new education minister has come under fire because of Mr. Dirks’ religious affiliation. He serves as an executive Pastor of a church that holds the traditional view on marriage being between a man and woman and sees homosexuality as a sin. Liberal Education Critic, Kent Hehr, praised Mr. Dirks’ long history of public service but he feels that the minister needs to clarify his religious views.
The question that should be considered is, “Why does Gordon Dirks need to clarify his religious view?” While on one hand it is appropriate to ensure that human rights are not compromised by religious beliefs of politicians, just because you adhere to a particular religious faith group does not mean that automatically it can be assumed that you are unable to do your job in a non-judgmental and objective manner. The issue should not be whether or not you have a particular religious conviction, but that you do not misuse your position to influence or coerce others. Some people have argued that when Gordon Dirks served as a public school trustee, he did just that, when he supported allowing faith-based schools to be part of the public system. Within this issue, however, he was not pushing any specific beliefs on parents or children; he was simply allowing more choice.
As a former teacher and Chairman of Calgary Public School Board, Gordon Dirks has the experience to do the job of Education Minister well. He should be judged on his credentials, not his religious beliefs. His focus will be on serving the needs of all Alberta youth, including gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual students. There are individuals in many human services roles such as doctors, teachers and social workers that have strong religious views, but their ability to do there job is not questioned. The same should hold true for our political leaders.
If Gordon Dirks were to make choices that did not reflect the mission of public education, only then should he need to “clarify” his religious views. Mr. Hehr also needs to be reminded that “public education” in Alberta consists of many religious faiths and should not be confused with a “public school board” although even within a public school board students practice a wide variety of faiths. Based on Mr. Dirks’ history he appears capable of considering the diversity of the students and families he is serving. It is important to remember Mr. Dirks own words, when he accepted this position. He pledged to work in conjunction with school boards, teachers and parents saying, “effective public education is based on that type of cooperatively working effectively. Its simply not about the minister of education, it is about a team of people working effectively. “