The Toronto District School Board has come under fire lately for allowing a group of Islamic children to pray in their school cafeteria with their Imam during school hours. This arrangement was made by teachers and parents when the children were missing class time to be allowed to go to a mosque to attend their daily prayers. Children who are not muslim are not attending these daily prayers, anyone attending these prayers must have signed consent from their parents and this program is being paid for by the community and not the school board.
These prayer sessions have been happening for the past three years without any incident and from what I understand the community has no problem with this program.
Then along comes a Hindu group, that from what I’ve read and have been led to believe criticise Islam on a regular basis, has stepped up and voiced their objections.
Ron Banerjee, the director of Canadian Hindu Advocacy has said that the TDSB is going to far. Mr. Banerjee claims that the 300 observant students that are now able to attend to their prayers while not missing class time or having to leave school property are “imposing their view and trying to change the rules, regulations, norms and values to accommodate themselves, and in the long-term, to spread their ideology,” He also states that “….Pretty soon we’re going to have 50 different ethnicities and religions asking for different accommodations”.
In 2000 the TDSB introduced a religious accommodation policy that would ensure that it was not infringing on anyones right to their own religious beliefs, and I applaud their effort to attempt to make accommodations for the children at this school where there is a high concentration of muslim children.
Prayer in school is controversial since 1982 when the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was signed and obligatory prayer in school became a violation of those rights to freedom of conscience and religion.
30 years ago the Lord’s Prayer was banned in the TDSB schools, but this is not a case of obligatory prayer. This is the school board making it easier for children to be students while still observing their religious beliefs. Why should someone have to choose either an education or their religion, aren’t both protected under the very Charter that protected people from being forced to pray?
It’s this same idiocy that has made it difficult to have any Christmas celebrations in the TDSB because we may offend someone’s sensibilities.
Mr. Banerjee says that soon we’ll have 50 different ethnicities and religions asking for accommodations and my response to that is, why should they have to ask for something that is protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
I was a 11 years old when the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was signed and soon the Lord’s Prayer was removed from part of our morning routines, but the end of Christmas celebrations took a longer, but it has happened because we’re so worried about offending someone who may not actually be a Christian. But I had a wonderful teacher who decided that nobody should be made to feel left out of the holiday celebration just because they don’t actually have a belief in Christ, and so the year that she was in charge of our Christmas concert we actually had a ‘Holiday Concert’ instead. She had every child that wanted to participate share information about how their family celebrated at that time of year as well as any cultural differences some may have in even just celebrating Christmas. It was wonderful evening in which we learned about Ramadan, Diwali and Hanukkah. German celebrations traditionally differ from the way the English or even the Russian’s celebrate.
Now I’ll fast forward 30 years or so, and tell you about my youngest sons’ school, a school located in the Toronto District School Board. His school is a fully inclusive school for children with a wide range of disabilities. These children are bussed in from all areas of the city and we have children from all walks of life, there are impoverished children, some from affluent families, and of course there are all manners of religions and cultures in the school.
The one thing that impressed me the most about the school when we went for the tour was their inclusive attitude. There is a religion room that is open for anyone to pray in whenever they wish to. The room is used by Hindu, Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist and any other religion that I’ve missed. It’s open to all students, even if they’re not religious but wish to have a few moments of quiet for reflection. All holidays are celebrated at the school, and I don’t mean by the school shutting down but by the observance being honored. The week before Christmas Break is dedicated to all faiths, each day a different religion that is represented by students at the school is honored and a ceremony is held in the gym for anyone wishing to attend in which the tradition and belief of the holiday is celebrated. As a result nobody gets upset by a Muslim day being honored anymore than they would over a Jewish, Hindu, Orthodox or Catholic. Children at the school will wish each other a happy holiday by the phrase that fits their belief system and be answered in the like. A statement of ‘Merry Christmas’ can be answered with a ‘Happy Hanukkah’ or ‘Happy Diwali’ or a wish to have a good Ramadan. Nobody is offended by a simple phrase, instead they embrace their differences and celebrate them happily.
I think that the model of tolerance at my son’s school should actually be made the norm for all TDSB school and instead of getting offended by a group that is different from your own, you should be understanding and accommodating and accept that they have the right to have and celebrate their belief just as much as you do.
Mr. Banerjee and the Canadian Hindu Advocacy, as well as any other groups out there that are upset by these children being allowed to have their prayers in a school cafeteria should understand that Canada is a culture of diversity and mixed religions and beliefs. Except for the Native people, all other beliefs and cultures are based on people who migrated to this country from some other place and that it’s only through acceptance and tolerance that they became ‘Canadian’ and why should those things be set in stone and nothing else accepted. Our country should still be accommodating and including new cultures, religions and beliefs as they are introduced to Canada. It’s one of the things that have made this country great and closed-minded people shouldn’t be allowed to destroy our multiculturalism.
We are told to practice tolerance but I think that some people only want tolerance for their own beliefs and cultures. The word tolerance means to have a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry.
A bigot is a person who is devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices, especially one exhibiting intolerance, and animosity toward those of differing beliefs and no matter how you slice, dice and fry it up, bigotry is as wrong as racism. They both are the same beast, only one is specific to a person’s race while the other is more encompassing.