Saturday, January 07, 2017

Prayers in public schools? Surely not here

Peel Region is an area just north of Metro Toronto, popular with new immigrants, and it happens to host a particularly large concentration of Muslims. It is not a hot-bed of racial strife or radicalism, and is marked more by its ordinariness than anything else. So I was quite shocked to learn that the school board there has been agonizing over just what kind of Muslim prayers should be part of the normal school day. Not whether, but what kind.
The very idea that religious observances and prayers of any kind have a place in Canadian schools is intrinsically abhorrent to me, whether it be The Lord's Prayer or the Jummah. It goes against the whole "separation of Church and State" basis of our constitution. To the best of my knowledge, school-sponsored prayer is disallowed in Canada under the concept of "freedom of conscience" as outlined in the Canadian Charter on Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. I mean, didn't we go through that whole thing of taking the Christmas out of Christmas on the grounds that someone somewhere found it offensive?
(Frankly, if I as an atheist don't find Christmas - at least in the abstract, or in the fact that most people in Canada seem to like it - offensive, then I'm not really sure why anyone else should. And give me "O Holy Night" over "Up on the Housetops" any day. But I digress...)
My point is that prayers and personal religious observances have no place in the school day, which should be devoted to, well, education: the learning of the alphabet, algebra, the two official languages, quantum mechanics, and all that.
If any, or even all, individuals want to pursue their religion, however benighted and suspect it might be, they are welcome to do that in their own time - early mornings, evenings, weekends, even lunchtimes outside of school if they are that desperate. If, though, they think that personal religion should be part of a child's school experience, then they are misguided and probably in the wrong place. In Canada, our education system is secular. Or, at least, should be.
What, then, is Peel? Has the pressure for "religious accommodation" grown so great that such practices are now acceptable? In which case, will some schools start reciting The Lord's Prayer again? Where will it all end?

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