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St. Patrick Catholic Elementary School in Ontario recently told 8th grade students to draw a poster with the phrase “Unborn Babies Matter” as part of an assignment that counted for a grade… and would also be entered in a contest held by Oxford County Right to Life, a local anti-abortion group. The winner would receive a $50 cash prize.

One parent is now speaking out against the assignment because, unlike in the U.S., this school receives public funding.

Rachelle Lynn Dixon knows the Catholic Church’s position on abortion, but she expected this school to walk a finer line between dogma and education, and she’s appalled that dogma won this battle.

“The parents weren’t told about it, and they’re not allowing the kids to learn about the opposite side of this issue,” said Rachelle Lynn Dixon, whose daughter Kaydence, 13, alerted her mom to the assignment. “It’s a Catholic school, but it’s also funded by the public. It’s an elementary school that is asking kids to Google images about abortion.

“I want her [Kaydence] to form her own opinion,” added her mom. “I understand it’s a Catholic school and it teaches Catholic beliefs, but we’re living in a day and age where women’s rights matter. With everything going on in the world, I don’t think these kids need to have this added on top of it.”

That mother isn’t just lashing out against the school. She plans to pull her two kids out of there at the end of the year, which is at least the right course of action. If you’re infuriated by the Catholic Church’s bigotry against gay people, cruelty against trans people, and historic ignorance on matters relating to reproductive rights and contraception, then you absolutely shouldn’t send your kids to these schools if you have the choice. It’s not always an option for some parents, who have other factors to consider even if religion isn’t one of them, but in this case, Dixon seemed to think the public funding would mitigate the problem.

I’m not sure why she believed that… but there you go. She learned the hard way that a Catholic school, even with public funding, is going to function like an arm of the Catholic Church, warts and all.

I know I say this every time one of these schools fires someone in a same-sex marriage, but it’s not like these stances were a secret. If you sincerely believe the Church would take the decent, kind, humane path forward, where the hell have you been for the past few decades? That’s not how they operate.

Even the school seemed shocked than Dixon was shocked.

Students in the class are learning the Catholic Church’s view on the “sanctity of life” as part of the Grade 8 religion curriculum, and are given a poster assignment to complete on the topic, said Mark Adkinson, a spokesperson for the London District Catholic School Board. 

“Students may choose to create a poster that would fit the criteria for both the assignment and the optional third-party contest,” he told CBC News in an email. 

In other words, Yeah, of course this is the assignment. What did you think we would be doing?!

If there’s any silver lining to all this, it’s that stories like these always raise an inevitable question: Why the hell is Canada funding Catholic schools?

Answer: Tradition! Catholic schools in Ontario, Alberta, and Saskatchewan and all three territories are publicly funded even as the arguments against separate education systems get louder each year. (In 2020, students at one such school were “bussed to an anti-abortion rally held in front of the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton.” Makes this poster assignment seem downright petty.)

But the only way this is ever going to stop is if enough people get outraged about the horrible things kids are taught inside those schools. Stories like these may lead to a bunch of eye-rolls, but at least it gets the conversation going.

In the meantime, if Dixon’s daughter wants to have some fun, I suggest creating a poster with the “Unborn Babies Matter” phrase that highlights how little conservative politicians care about the babies after they’re born or how that phrase is virtually meaningless because it could apply to everything from miscarriages to masturbation. Stick to the rules so you get a good grade, then turn the assignment on its head to show how the Catholic Church actively causes more suffering by adhering to its No Abortions Ever mandate.

Hemant Mehta is the founder of FriendlyAtheist.com, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.