The Lord’s Prayer was taken out of Dr. Hamman School after mother Melanie Bell voiced her concerns to principal Darlene Peckford.
“It is the only public school in Taber that still recites the Lord’s Prayer,” said Bell, in a Thursday morning interview with The Times.
Bell’s issue stems from as far back as 2012. According to a letter Bell issued to principal Peckford, one of the two children Bell has enrolled at the school came home crying because he was disciplined for not participating in the prayer. It came to a head again this school year when both of her kids came home crying again over with how the prayer situation was being handled.
“I feel religion has no need in the public school system,” said Bell.
Some other solutions were explored like Bell’s children not having to say it, but in hearing the prayer over the P.A. system, Bell feels their basic human rights of freedom of religion are being violated.
A second solution was to have individual classes say the prayer together with Bell’s two sons having the option to leave class during its recitation.
“More than likely, my kids would be likely picked on or bullied because we do not participate in the Christian faith,” said Bell.
Bell considers herself more agnostic in her belief in a higher power.
With a mother who is Catholic, a father who is Mormon and having attended Baptist church, Bell warned her motion to get the Lord’s Prayer taken out of Dr. Hamman School was not a direct attack on Christianity.
“I’m not for or against it. I’m saying if you are going to do it then diversify. If you are going to say one, then devote 30 minutes to every religion (found) at the school,” said Bell.
“We teach diversity and acceptance as parents, as a school and as a community. There is no diversity and acceptance of other religions with the Lord’s Prayer. You want religion in the public school system? Teach them all.”
She added there are plenty of other places the Lord’s Prayer can be recited for families who wish to do so, be it at the morning breakfast table, in church or a Christian or Catholic school, but not a public school system.
“As a society and a school community we strive to teach acceptance of others and the importance of diversity, but where is the acceptance of others who do not practice the Christian religion. Everyone has the right to practice their religion? But not in a public school,” noted Bell, in her written letter to Dr. Hamman School Principal Darlene Peckford.
Bell added, she has received both support and backlash in her pursuit of getting the Lord’s Prayer taken out of Dr. Hamman School. Those who have voiced their support and concerns fear reprisal from fellow parents, according to Bell.
Before even looking into her campaign, Bell looked into pulling her children out of the school, but could not find room at other schools to accommodate her kids.
“What bugs me is I started my kids there in a public school system thinking they didn’t (do the Lord’s Prayer). I find out about it, but because I got it stopped (last Wednesday), there was a note sent out to all the parents saying it is no longer going, but when I signed up my children to go there, I was never told it (the Lord’s Prayer) was there to begin with. I wouldn’t have signed my kids up there,” said Bell. “I phoned Central School and they have no room in their Grade 3 class and the other public school, I have a kid with special needs and they don’t have the resources like Dr. Hamman does to provide the extra support for my child.”
Although the Lord’s Prayer has been taken out of Dr. Hamman School for now, rumblings have been made from concerned parents of trying to get it reinstated.
“We want to get at least an opportunity to vote, because it was just one person who made the request and there was no warning for the rest of us,” said Tonya Torrie, a concerned parent of three children who attend Dr. Hamman. “We aren’t mad, but we want to have the right to say what we want to say. I just don’t think it’s right for one person to make a decision that affects everyone else. Right now some parents are hoping to get to a position where we can at least bring it to a vote and if more people voted to withdraw it, then so be it.”
Torrie added there is a misunderstanding of what a public school means.
“It means we have a division that supports what parents want, regardless of whether it has to do with God or not. We want the school board to listen to what parents want. She will have her say, we’ll have our say and we’ll go from there,” said Torrie.
Torrie added a parent meeting was held on Monday and a meeting was scheduled with Horizon superintendent Wilco Tymensen on Tuesday. Torrie is hoping for a resolution that can be at least somewhat palatable to both sides meeting somewhere in the middle.
“It doesn’t have to be all yes or all no. We are a society that is democratic that we can come to a consensus. It might not be perfect for either side, but we can find some middle ground,” said Torrie of the 267 kids who attend Dr. Hamman School who would be affected. “Maybe it’s the Lord’s Prayer once a week, or the Lord’s Prayer before school where they come late — whatever. As far as people supporting us, last I heard was 96 people (as of Thursday afternoon). It has been rising. We need to be heard and it needs to be done democratically.”
The Lord’s Prayer debate has been settled in other provinces, since a landmark 1988 Ontario ruling that found saying the Lord’s Prayer in public schools violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But the practice has persisted in Alberta and Saskatchewan, two provinces which were granted a Constitutional exemption when they joined Confederation in 1905 that protected the right to prayer in school.
School Prayer controversy swirled around Sturgeon Heights School near St. Albert a couple of years ago which suspended morning prayers until the local school board could draft a policy on the issue.
Drafted in late November, 2011, some portions of the Sturgeon School Division Lord’s Prayer policy include:
2.4 The Board shall consider the rationale presented, including the tradition and culture of the school community, as well as the determined degree of parent interest and may prescribe the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer to be a part of the school day opening at that school.
2.5 When the Lord’s Prayer is part of the school day opening exercises, the Principal shall ensure that parents are informed of the practice at the time of registration each year.
2.6 The Principal shall annually ensure that written approval is provided for students whose parents/guardians wish them to participate in recitation of the Lord’s Prayer as part of the school’s opening exercises.
2.7 In accordance with the School Act, the Alberta Act, the School Ordinance of the Northwest Territories, the Constitution of Canada and the Alberta Human Rights Act, the Principal shall:
2.7.1 make provision for any students whose parents/guardians do not wish them to participate in recitation of the Lord’s Prayer as a school opening religious exercise to:
22.214.171.124 leave the classroom while the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer is taking
126.96.36.199 remain in the classroom without taking part, or
188.8.131.52 if the location of the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer is other than the
students’ classroom, not attend to that location, and
2.7.2 ensure that non-participants are treated discreetly and with respect at all times.