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School prayer protected under School Act

Posted on November 14, 2013 by Taber Times

I was alarmed this past Wednesday to find Dr. Hamman School had suddenly banned the Lord’s Prayer after singing the Canadian anthem. On questioning, I  learned one individual had written a request to discontinue this practice due to their personal beliefs.  

As a result, this practice which had been ongoing for the past seven years was stopped immediately. Local school authorities gave no prior notice to parents and there was no effort made to discuss alternatives or appropriate accommodation with parents.

The right to recite the Lord’s Prayer is a protected right under Alberta School Act, 1905: Section 17, also under the School Act: Sections 3, 50(1)(a) and (b), and 50(2)(a) and (b) also the Constitution Act 186: Section 93, and also the Alberta Human Rights Act: Section 11.1(1) and (2). Alberta is the only province in Canada with this specific protection allowing recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in public schools.

In mentioning this, I am sensitive to the fact this one individual feels uncomfortable with this practice. This is by no means an attack on this individual. Our Charter of Rights and Freedoms is in place to protect the rights of individuals and minorities as well. However, it cannot remove the rights of individuals in the majority either.  

The separation of church and state does not ban religion from the public square. Rather it prohibits our government from endorsing a single religion or forcing anyone to worship any particular religion or belief system. In Alberta, having a prayer at the beginning of the day, is one protected right in public schools.

Governments have an interest in supporting religion as it provides numerous benefits to society. Our local government is involved in religious organizations. The M.D. of Taber and Town of Taber collect taxes from Catholic citizens to support local Catholic schools. The Taber Christian School receives funding from the public school system. The federal government in the United States and Canada exempt the payment of taxes from religious organizations. The separation of church and state clearly does not mean the government washes its hands of anything religious. Rather, it allows the exercise of religion while simultaneously protecting individual rights.

Our local school board was recently elected by local citizens.  This request to the Horizon School Division and school board, to ban a protected practice, represents O.0032 per cent of the student body at Dr. Hamman School. By immediately banning this simple practice with no discussion with the electorate or pursuit of appropriate alternatives, is unfortunate. The basis of elections is that those elected will represent the electorate, even if doing so may be difficult or uncomfortable.

At the same time, minority rights must be honoured. However, this does not have to be at the expense of the remaining 99.9968 per cent of the electorate involved at Dr. Hamman School. There is room to appease all involved by seeking out appropriate alternatives so all may have their freedom to believe as they please.

In Valley Park Middle School of the Toronto School District, a public school district, some 300 Muslim students have been allowed to gather in the school cafeteria to offer their prayers and an Imam was allowed to come in and lead the students in prayer. In the Sturgeon School Division near Edmonton, the school board protected the right of those desiring to recite the Lord’s Prayer while still protecting the freedoms of those not desiring to do so.  

I respectfully request our elected officials please consider options for accommodating the entire electorate by preserving this protected right.

RYAN TORRIE

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