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Religion in Schools

August 14th, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Recent media stories have been aflutter over revelations that a Toronto area school is providing approximately 300 Muslim students with space for prayer every Friday afternoon.  Students congregate in the cafeteria for one hour and prayer sessions are led by an Imam who is brought into the school for this special rite.   In what has created more feather ruffling, girls are expected to take a position behind their male counterparts; and any girl menstruating is required to abstain from prayer sessions.  Additionally, non-Muslim students are not permitted to participate in the service.  The latest media reports suggest that perhaps more than one public school in the Toronto area is providing this service to its Muslim students.

There are a few things – at least to me – that are clearly wrong with this situation.  In fact, there are so many things REALLY wrong with this situation that I’m even more exasperated knowing that little is being done to resolve the issue.

Clearly, a publicly funded school board must find an appropriate balance for accommodating all students.  That accommodation should not extend to a student’s religious instruction.  The sheer diversity of religious groups within the public school system would make it near impossible to support every one of them.  There is nothing equitable about allowing one group of students to do it and not another.  Further, public schools are not in the business of religious education.  That kind of training should be extracurricular and at the parents’ discretion.

There is also something gravely wrong when a Canadian public school allows- even supports – a religious practice that clearly violates gender equality.  While I appreciate that certain religious customs deem it necessary and part of scripture to practice gender separation during prayer, I don’t believe those customs should be permitted to extend into our public school system.  All children should be treated equally in our schools and any action that counters this should be stopped immediately.

Finally, there has also been some concern about the background and history of the Imams conducting these prayer sessions.  It’s certainly a frightening notion that some of the parents interviewed had no idea who the religious instructors were or what they were teaching their children.  Where’s the transparency and accountability that is supposed to be a part of our school system?  Who hired these prayer leaders and what exactly are their qualifications?

As far as I am concerned, religious instruction has no place in our public school systems.  Truthfully, I’m surprised that the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) has allowed this to go on.  In the last couple decades we’ve seen public schools in Ontario steadily become more and more secular.  The Lord’s Prayer, once a mandatory start to each school day, was deemed inappropriate for a public school system comprised of multiple faiths and cultures.   Christmas and Easter events have been re-branded as Holiday and Spring festivities.  It seems to me that the TDSB is taking two steps backward by supporting prayer sessions in their schools.

Let’s be clear – public schools should be about education, not indoctrination.  It’s fine if a scholarly view of religion is offered in school; however, religious instruction should not have a place in our public schools.  Leave that kind of teaching to the parents – or better yet – let the children decide when they come of age.

As I’ve stated in previous posts, this is a very slippery slope indeed.  Once again, it appears that we’ve chosen to stand on the edge of the slope and see how far we can lean over before we slide uncontrollably down.


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  1. mom
    September 29th, 2011 at 01:46 | #1

    OHHHHHHH didn’t realize how to get here. 😉 xo to you both . I agree.

  2. mae
    August 14th, 2011 at 11:47 | #2

    @Crystal Firstly, thanks for your comments. I appreciate your comments and viewpoints.

    I’d like to ask if non-Aboriginal students are allowed to take these studies? Is there a required participation in rituals and prayers in each class or is it merely learning about the spiritual realm of this culture?

    I don’t have an issue with religion being looked at from a scholastic point of view. I’d love to see more classes to educate children on various world religions. To me, there’s nothing inherently wrong with discussing the culture and myths associated with religion – similar to say a Greek mythology class. Nor is there anything wrong, in my opinion, with learning about the rituals, rites and scriptures of various religions. I think it is a great advantage to understand other religions. The issue I have is religious teaching in our public schools that does not allow for critical evaluation and discourse or is not transparent in its agenda. That really ruffles my feathers.

    As a religious studies student I highly value learning about various religions and how they influence the societies in which they are embedded. In this instance, I stand by my comments that religious practice & instruction for the purposes of indoctrination has no place in our public school systems.

    Further, once one religious group is given special treatment, then all others must – in the name of equality – be afforded it. Clearly, this would be an impossible feat for any school board given the untold number of religions and their various off-shoots.

    I believe that public schools should be about non-partisan education. There are far more appropriate times and places for children to be immersed into spiritual teachings.

    M. xo

  3. Crystal
    August 14th, 2011 at 10:26 | #3

    At EDPS, there are aboriginal studies because so many students come from the reserve on Golden Lake. I think part of their studies combines a religious component tied to their cultural beliefs. What do you think of this? How can a public system built to take their culture from them, deny them the right to it now? Personally in this instance, I think religion in schools makes sense…

  4. john spurgeon
    August 14th, 2011 at 09:53 | #4

    Couldn’t agree more, love you lots

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