EDITORIAL: Mixing religion with public education is messy business

by | Mar 31, 2017 | Editorial

The Peel Region School Board is engaged in a cage match with parents who oppose the introduction of a designated space for Muslim prayer in public schools.

A recent video which is gaining international attention shows a diverse coalition of angry parents expressing their frustration with the board. One man furiously presented a copy of Quran and proceeded to rip it apart. Parents believe the school board has failed to accommodate the religious rights of all their students without providing preferential treatment to others.

The controversial topic has been widely discussed throughout the school year, debating whether the school should implement any religious accommodation or, if they do, how it should accommodate all students of all religions and creeds.

It is widely perceived that public schools should have no connection to religion and that they are restricted from doing so. But this is not the case. Public school boards have the right to teach religion in their schools; they also have the right to allow students to gather together in prayer or religious reflection. So, unless schools are funding specific religious practices or promoting religions, people are allowed to practice their faith in a respectful way.

Religion plays a huge role in society and human history; it would be unreasonable to scratch it out of education entirely. There is an abundance of lessons that can be taught from both the positives and negatives of religion and its effect on society.

However, when you intertwine religion and state, you create a lot of fraught issues for citizens. Especially when you’re as diverse as Canada, with so many colours and creeds. Specifically accommodating one group of people can cause extreme tension, as seen in the Peel board video.

The explosive meeting comes close to the emotions expressed during the passing of the M-103 motion, the parliamentary bill that condemns Islamophobia and other systemic racism. The specifying of Islamophobia in the legislation spurred demonstrations and confrontations across the country.

And the concerns were valid. Why does Islam require its own customized discrimination/ hate crime laws? All religious beliefs should be protected by the same standards, while people should not be found guilty of a crime for expressing concern or criticism of a specific religious or cultural practice. I understand that some communities might face more racial prejudice than others, but to cite a specific religious identity in a parliamentary bill is an unneeded accommodation for a specific group. It is extremely important to be free to criticize things you perceive as unjust, even these involve the practice of a religious custom.

Not only does this approach disrespect other religions, but it doesn’t help Islam. M-103 is no different from other hate crime laws, which punishes the mistreatment of others based on religion, race and other factors. The only difference is the new legislation specifically mentions Islamophobia.

This actually creates a separation from Canadian society by creating a sense of preferential concern for a specific religious group and gives the appearance of creating greater constaints on those who might criticize the religion.

Canada is about living and working harmoniously with our neighbours, regardless of colour or creed, and no one should expect to be treated any differently on the basis of their religion. Everyone should be held accountable and punished for their hateful actions toward religious groups; vandalism and violence against Jewish institutions or individuals should be treated the same as vandalism and violence against Islamic centres and Muslims.

Islamic hate crimes are as important and should be investigated like any other hate crimes without requiring special parliamentary attention. Everyone’s rights as a Canadian should be respected. The loss of any person’s rights, life, or freedom is a disgusting thing that should not take place in our progressive and inclusive society.

Public schools should be decisively unattached to any religion, functioning purely as places of diversity and inclusion; if they decide to celebrate one religion, they should celebrate them all. That said, they can be allowed to implement spaces in which students of any background can gather in religious practice, but teaching religion during school hours should not be acceptable. A state-run facility and service should not be used promote particular religious views.