In a controversial and not very popular decision, Christian prayer has been kicked out of a public school.
Students at Dr. Hamman School in Taber, Alberta, are no longer expected to recite the Lord’s Prayer along with the school’s P.A. system as part of the daily opening exercises. Dr. Hamman School was the last remaining public school in Taber where prayer was still part of the morning routine.
The prayer was challenged by Melanie Bell, whose two sons attend Dr. Hamman School and had come home in tears more than once when school officials punished them for failing to participate in the class prayer, which the children had not learned to recite at home.
Bell says she tried to find alternative solutions for her children, but no other local schools had room to allow them to transfer, and she argued that her sons were very likely to become targets for bullying if they left class during the prayers. She further believed that having to listen to school-sanctioned prayer, even as non-participants, was a violation of the children’s right to religious freedom.
Her family comes from a Christian background, but she does not believe her children should be forced to pray, and she was troubled by the absence of all other belief systems from the school’s prayer routine, which gave the appearance of discrimination and official favoritism.
I’m not for or against [school prayer]. I’m saying if you are going to do it, then diversify. If you are going to say one, then devote thirty minutes to every religion found at the school. 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.
While Bell said she has received some support for her petition, she also described some backlash and mentioned that others who agree with the removal of prayer from Dr. Hamman School fear reprisals from prayer-supporting parents. Support for school prayer in Taber and in the province at large — one of Canada’s most conservative — appears to be growing. An (admittedly unscientific) poll on the Lethbridge Herald website yesterday showed 75% of respondents opposing the decision to purge the Lord’s Prayer from the school environment.
One parent whose children attend Dr. Hamman School cited the desire of the majority of parents to incorporate some Christian content into the school environment as a reason why the decision should not stand:
We want to get at least an opportunity to vote, because it was just one person who made the request. 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… [The public school system] means we have a division that supports what parents want, regardless of whether it has to do with God or not.
The law disagrees, at least in Ontario, where a 1988 court ruling found that prayer in public schools violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, the situation is complicated in Alberta and Saskatchewan, two provinces whose entry into the Canadian Confederation in 1905 was partially contingent on a Constitutional exemption that protected their right to school prayer. It isn’t clear which of these two principles will emerge victorious.
Others are not even pretending to invoke secular reasoning for keeping the Lord’s Prayer. The National Post found one parent from Dr. Hamman School who argued that
[i]t’s very important that kids learn, from when they’re little, that there is someone greater than us and that we are submissive of Him.
School officials have stressed that the removal of the prayer from school is a temporary measure and may be reversed. Some prayer-supporting parents have encouraged compromises: making the prayer a weekly (rather than daily) ritual, or allowing children who do not pray to arrive in class after the morning prayer routine has concluded.
If prayer in public schools is found to violate the Charter rights of children who do not embrace the Christian faith, however, compromise may not be fair or appropriate. (“What if we only violate the children’s rights once weekly?”) It’s unclear whether these rights will reign supreme, or whether the majority opinion — and the majority religion — will prevail over families who choose not to pray.
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