Preschool that refused atheist family who complained about Christmas, Hanukkah celebrations is forced to pay

An atheist family in Canada whose child was barred from re-enrolling in school -- after the parents complained about holiday celebrations in the classroom -- was awarded nearly $12,000 Canadian (roughly $9,000 U.S.) by a British Columbia human-rights body in the family's lawsuit against the school.

Gary Mangel and Mai Yasué were told their daughter would not be allowed to re-register to attend Bowen Island Montessori School (BIMS), northwest of Vancouver, until they signed a letter agreeing to the school's curriculum, according to a decision issued last Tuesday by the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal


The parents, who identify as atheists, claimed the school discriminated against the family "on the bases of religion, race, ancestry and family status."

The case, tribunal member Barbara Korenkiewicz stated, was "not about a challenge to BIMS curriculum or its approach to teaching about various cultural celebrations rooted in religious practices of diverse origin."

"At its core, it is about a letter which held [the child's] registration hostage to a demand," Korenkiewicz's verdict read.

The situation began after Mangel joined the school's board of directors in 2014.

During an email discussion about elf ornaments in November 2014, Mangel wrote he didn't "think it's appropriate to celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or any other religious/political event at preschool (including Remembrance Day)," noting that his child was only three years old "[and] cannot consent to being involved in decorating military wreaths or Christmas trees or lighting Hanukkah candles."

"As a side note, I certainly hope that there will be no discussion of Santa Claus at BIMS," Mangel added. "I am absolutely against anyone blatantly lying to my daughter..."


A school board member responded that children at the preschool "will be exposed to different cultural aspects of celebrations from around the world," and said that Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa would have "equal time." The board member stated, "There is an offering of information but no insistence on belief."

Mangel, at one point in the email back-and-forth, sent "atheist Christmas ornaments" — one of which depicted the Twin Towers alongside the caption: "Atheists don't fly airplanes into buildings." Korenkiewicz wrote in her decision that she found this to be a "veiled form of Islamophobia."

Korenkiewicz said in her decision that nothing in the case "could justify the refusal to register [the child] unless [the parents] essentially agreed that they would be significantly limited in their ability to raise issues about the cultural aspects of the BIMS program." She said the school should pay the child $2,000 and the parents $5,000 each.

Maria Turnbull, the school board chair, told Fox News on Sunday that the school's curriculum is "multicultural," and said the school was pleased the tribunal found it to be "appropriate." She said the school wishes the child's parents well and "hopes to get back to its mission" following the decision.