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Canada Muslim Prayers During Class Time Draws Fire At Toronto School

Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
July 6, 2011

Muslim prayers during class time draws fire at Toronto school

Charles Lewis - Last Updated: Jul 6, 2011 4:24 PM ET

A Toronto school that allows Muslim students to conduct prayer sessions during class hours on school property is pushing up against the boundaries set by the courts more than 20 years ago to keep religious instruction out of public classrooms.

“I think this looks like a school practicing religion,” said Ed Morgan, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Toronto. “The school may be conveying a message that they endorse religion and that’s what the school is not allowed to do.”

In the 1980s, Canadian courts decided that the Lord’s Prayer should not be said in public schools because it was a form of religious indoctrination and at the same time stigmatized and ridiculed those children who had to seek an opt-out clause to be excused from saying the Christian prayer.

“This [current case] is not imposition or indoctrination, but it’s a fine line,” said Prof. Morgan. “Suppose you’re one of the kids who is left out? Is there that much difference than the kids who had to get up anD leave during mandatory prayer?”

Each Friday between November and March, the Valley Park Middle School, which is 80% to 90% Muslim, allows an imam to come in and conduct a 30-minute prayer session in the cafeteria for 400 students. Friday afternoon prayer is considered one of the most important of the religious week, akin to Sunday mass for Catholics.

The imam was selected by the parents and the larger Muslim community and the school contributes no money to the prayer session. The parents, not school officials, supervise the service.

It is the only school in the Toronto District School Board that has such a practice.

Ron Banerjee, of Canadian Hindu Advocacy, said he received complaints from Hindu parents who were concerned about the potential for inflammatory preaching against their faith — though there has been no evidence that has occurred.

But there is still a larger problem that everyone should be concerned about, he added.

“No group should be getting this privilege because it sets a bad precedent for other groups who may come along and want the same right. This is fragmentation and Balkanization. This no way to run a public educational system.”

There is a mosque down the street that the students are free to go to but having the service on campus is more efficient, said Shari Schwartz-Maltz, communications manager for the school board.

“The parents were concerned on Fridays that the kids were leaving to go to the mosque but frankly taking their time to get there and get back. There were concerns about safety even thought their parents allowed it and there was a concern about the loss of instructional time.”

To date, the school has received no complaints.

She also cited the Ontario human rights code, which mandates accommodation of religious practice on a case-by-case basis.

The issue of separation of church and state is confusing to many Canadians because of our exposure to American media, said Faye Sonier, a lawyer with the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. The principle in Canada is supposed to be one of co-operation and accommodation, she added.

“Canada does not, nor has it ever, had a constitutional recognition of the ‘separation of church and state’,” she said.

“School boards have an obligation to provide a welcoming environment for all students, including those who hold religious beliefs, and they should seek to reasonably accommodate the beliefs of their students.

“If the board is accommodating the religious beliefs of these students, I should hope that they will assure the religious freedoms of other students as well. For example, in many schools across the country, Christian students have been wrongly denied the ability to hold Bible studies over lunch or recess, and most recently, parents seeking to exempt their children from classes inconsistent with their faith have been challenged. We would hope that the accommodation shown to this group would be extended to Christian students as well.”

National Post

source: http://life.nationalpost.com/2011/0...ring-class-time-draws-fire-at-toronto-school/



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