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Let’s keep bullying out of the prayer debate

Posted on November 20, 2013 by Taber Times

I found it quite unsettling when the parent involved in the prayer dispute at Dr. Hamman school revealed that they have received hate mail and threats regarding this issue. In 2013? In Canada? We send soldiers to fight and die in other countries so all people, especially minorities, can have their fundamental rights protected. How small the percentage of the minority is does not negate their rights. While the prayer is clearly a meaningful tradition to some and change is often difficult, it is totally unacceptable to send hate mail or make threats. These people should be ashamed of themselves. It is hypocritical and counterproductive to bully parents and children in the religious minority. No amount of public or private praying gives anyone a pass for oppressing adults or children who do not share their beliefs. Is this the Christ-like response? Kids should be taught and nurtured to demonstrate that they are good people by their actions. Actions speak louder than public expression of a particular religious belief or rote recitation of a prayer. Religious dogma is not necessary in the teaching of morality.

This story is being covered extensively in the national news. Don’t we want Taber to be portrayed as a reasonable and welcoming community, instead of one where parents in the religious minority fear reprisal if they request protection of their children’s fundamental rights? The fact that other provinces have eliminated religious prayer from public schools demonstrates that many communities throughout Canada have recognized that prayer can be an act that takes place in the home and in tax exempt places of group worship. I understand that the majority of parents at Dr. Hamman are willing to make accommodations and compromises, such as praying at home or suggesting a moment of silence in lieu of prayer at the school, and this is quite encouraging. Non-Christian children who are asked to leave the classroom or decline to stand for the prayer are publicly segregated, thereby making them targets for potential ostracism and bullying. Offering a “choice” of participation or non-participation stigmatizes non-Christian children. It makes all of the children aware of differences in spiritual beliefs that they may not have been previously aware of.   

Dialogue involving religion is often emotionally charged, and can be divisive. No matter which side of the issue you stand on, you are unlikely to change anyone else’s beliefs. Take a moment to imagine how you would feel if your children were the minority and being humiliated in an environment where they are supposed to flourish. All parents want a high quality education for their children in an inclusive setting where they are treated with respect. Don’t children have enough to worry about when seeking acceptance from their peers?     

VANESSA BASTURA

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