In defence of the school’s practice, Toronto District School Board Education (TDSB) Director Chris Spence stated that “As a public school board, we have a responsibility and an obligation to accommodate faith needs.” But those “faith needs” are a matter of debate.
According to the Muslim Canadian Congress, Friday prayers are not even compulsory. The group also opposes the gender segregation imposed on the children. The MCC is contemplating legal action to force the TDSB to respect the Ontario Education Act, which states, “a board shall not permit any person to conduct religious exercises or to provide instruction that includes religious indoctrination in a particular religion or religious belief in a school.”
This regulation respects the 1988 Ontario Court of Appeal ruling in the case of Zylberberg v. Sudbury Board of Education. The court held that the Lord’s Prayer could no longer be spoken in public schools, on the grounds that it discriminated against students from other faiths, or who had no religion at all. Based on that decision, the current practice at Valley Park violates the rights of not only non-Muslim students, who must give over their cafeteria space to another religion, but Muslim students who don’t share this particular way of practicing Islam.
“Faith needs” should not supersede the right to equality in publicly-funded institutions. In a pluralist society like Canada, parents are free to teach their children whatever beliefs they please – in private and on their own time, however offensive those beliefs might be to others.
It is quite instructive, however, to be made aware of just how offensive some of those beliefs are. I therefore thank the Toronto Star for publishing the photograph of the prayer service at Valley Park Middle School. The picture tells more than a thousand words. It is a wake up call.
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