The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal has awarded an atheist couple $12,000 after they protested Christmas decorations at their daughter’s school. The case wasn’t about whether the school should be allowed to display Christmas ornaments or discuss religion with students. Rather, it concerned the school’s response to the angered parents’ complaints, which the tribunal declared was discriminatory.
The controversy started in 2014. At this time, Mai Yasue and Gary Mangel, two outspoken atheists of Japanese and Jewish descent respectively, discovered the school’s planned activities for the month of December. Plans included decorating elf ornaments and possibly lighting candles on a menorah. The three-year-old little girl’s father was on the board of directors for the school. Mangel wrote an e-mail to other members on the board proclaiming it wasn’t appropriate for preschoolers to celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, or any other “religious/political event.”
In his e-mail, Mangel said, “I certainly hope that there will be no discussion of Santa Claus at BIMS. I am absolutely against anyone blatantly lying to my daughter.”
Over the next several months, the disagreement escalated as Yasue and Mangel exchanged colorful and sometimes confrontational e-mails with the school’s board. They also engaged in stressful meetings with school staff regarding the religious and cultural content included in curriculum. Besides Christmas, Yasue and Mangel objected to school celebrations of Valentine’s Day and Easter. The couple felt these two holidays are too associated with consumerism and materialism.
In June of 2015, the dispute reached a breaking point when the school requested the couple sign an agreement verifying their “understanding and acceptance” of all facets of the school’s cultural initiatives. Yasue and Mangel declined to sign the document. As a result, their little girl wasn’t allowed to return to the school in the fall. Human Rights Tribunal member Barbara Korenkiewicz concluded the school’s demand was a form of discrimination on the basis of ancestry, race, and religion.
“I find nothing in the evidence that could justify the refusal to register [the child] unless Dr. Yasué 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,” she wrote.
As compensation for the discrimination, Korenkiewicz proclaimed the school should pay each parent $5,000 and the little girl $2,000. The Human Rights Tribunal member believed the monetary amounts should be awarded in spite of some conduct Mangel displayed that drifted “beyond the acceptable.” For example, when the student’s father discovered the educational institution planned to include clay elf ornaments in its holiday festivities, he sent an e-mail to the board of directors suggesting some “atheist Christmas ornaments” that would more closely represent the views of his family.
One ornament merely said “Skeptic” while another one depicted the World Trade Center in New York and included the saying “Atheists don’t fly airplanes into buildings.” Korenkiewicz concluded that the latter decoration was “a veiled form of Islamophobia.” The Human Rights Tribunal was also enlightened about an awkward conversation Mangel had with the husband of a school administrator. While the two were talking about use of religious symbols at the educational institution, Mangel mentioned that kids in public schools continue to sing the national anthem even though the song still has the word “God” in it. According to Korenkiewicz, “Mangel responded, ‘I’ll sue them too’ and then began doing the Nazi salute and marching around while he sung a different version of O Canada.”
Concerning the bizarre incident, Mangel shared with the Human Rights Tribunal he knew he was acting in a politically incorrect manner, but his behavior was supposed to be a “preposterous analogy.” Maria Turnbull, the president of the school board, described the monetary award to the family as a “meaningful sum.” She commented that the school’s officials will have to decide how they can pay it. Turnbull remarked to CBC News, “What the decision provides is a level of certainty that is valued by the school, and we look forward to getting 100 per cent back to our focus on the young people.”
~ 1776 Christian