It feels like Groundhog Day in the Supreme Court. Like the Ontario courts more than a quarter century ago, early last week the Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously that a Saguenay, Que. town council’s recitation of the Lord’s Prayer prior to its meetings is unconstitutional.
Writing on behalf of the court, Justice Clément Gascon pointedly noted, “Sponsorship of one religious tradition by the state in breach of its duty of neutrality amounts to discrimination against all other such traditions.”
Decades later as I began work with Canadian Jewish Congress in 1984, ironically, one of the key issues on our agenda was working toward the elimination of Christian bible study and the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in Ontario public schools.
Similar to what occurred last week in the Supreme Court, the Ontario Court of Appeal unanimously agreed that imposing the Lord’s Prayer as part of Ontario public school opening exercises infringed the right to freedom of religion as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It held that communal recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in the classroom would in fact place undue pressure or hardship on children who are not part of the Christian classroom majority. The Court noted that their decision took into account the fact that exemptions, though allowed for non-Christian children, were no salve to the real pressure to conform.
Yet the changes in policy adopted by Canada’s public schools were not necessarily embraced by other public institutions. While the Courts were clear in that the imposition of a majority faith action in the public sphere was unconstitutional, many municipal councils across Canada still began their meetings with the Lord’s Prayer. Like the public schools of yesteryear, councils did permit exemptions and from time to time a prayer from another faith was heard in conjunction with the Lord’s Prayer.
Incredibly, 15 years later, the same fight continues to be fought, now in front of the Supreme Court of Canada, which mirrored decisions in both Zylberberg and Freitag to stop a Quebec town council from opening its sessions with the Lord’s Prayer. Even more sadly, Mayor John Gray of Oshawa is stubbornly refusing to change the practice in his municipality to conform to the law.
No matter what laws are put in place there is no one on earth who has the right to tell us who we should believe in, governments have tried to force the public into what they think we should believe.
Surely in 2015 we should expect town councils and our elected municipal officials not to act like dinosaurs of a time long past but to embrace equality and the need to ensure we are all treated with dignity and respect. We as Christians know what is the truth and the way we should conduct our lives, we know that we have our rights torn apart for what society believes to be the greater good. This is morally not right and to be called dinosaurs is a total disregard for our beliefs as well as a slap in the face.
Islam in Canada
Islam is considered to be the world’s third major monotheistic (single-god) faith, and like Judaism and Christianity, it traces its origins to the ancient Middle East. Its key tenets entail reverence for Mohammad (c. 570 – c. 632), a man believed to be God’s final prophet on earth, and the Koran, a holy book transcribed by the prophet to document God’s instructions to the faithful.
With over a million Canadian followers — known as Muslims — Islam is said to be the fastest-growing religion in modern Canada, a fact which is entirely due to a recent influx of Muslim immigrants from Islamic nations. Of these, most hail from a small group of countries in south Asia and the Middle East, namely Iran, Pakistan, India, Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon, and the practice of the faith in Canada remains heavily tied to the cultures of these communities.
Of all of Canada’s major faith groups, Muslims easily remain the most controversial, with polls routinely showing them to be amongst the least trusted segments of the population. This is partially due to the global rise of Islamic terrorism since September 11, 2001, which has helped taint the faith with negative associations of violence and fundamentalism, and partially because of a broader secular anxiety regarding the religion’s traditionally conservative views on women’s rights and freedom of speech. As the country’s Islamic population continues to rise, such tensions seem likely to continue, but so too are more aggressive attempts to promote interfaith understanding.
Despite the foundations and long tradition of Christianity in Canada, any accommodation of it — even at Christmas time — is largely rejected in the public school system, which supposedly adheres to secularism. But there is a single exception to the rule, as one religion seems to stand supreme:
Muslim students in the province of Ontario are entitled to hold weekly prayer meetings, held on Friday. These “Jumm’ah” prayer and sermon sessions have been the focus of intense criticism as the provincial public school system is not supposed to be promoting any religion or hosting any religious instruction.
The Peel school board in Mississauga (near Toronto) is not only allowing Islamic sermons, but it is also refusing to monitor the contents of those sermons. This is despite the very real risk of the jihad doctrine being spread. The Toronto Star reported that “Islamic schools, mosques in Canada are filled with extremist literature, according to a study.” More troubling was that “the authors of the study say what worried them was not the presence of extremist literature, but that they found nothing but such writings in several mosque libraries and Islamic schools.”
Peel board members “justified the policy reversal” not to monitor the Islamic sermons “by insisting it represented a commitment to inclusiveness”; but its singling out of Muslims for preferred treatment above all other faiths was not an exercise in inclusivity, but rather a demonstration of the appalling exclusion of all other faiths. Even worse, when protests erupted, Peel police intervened as though they were Sharia police, and bullied a female protester outside:
It is also worthwhile to note that Omar Alghabra, who ascribes to Sharia, is the Member of Parliament for Mississauga.
The Peel District School Board’s genuflection to one community is a slap in the face to all Canadians who aren’t Muslim. It represents a new low in Canadian organizations’ descent toward dhimmitude. It’s alarming that such imprudent administrators are awarded with the trust to educate children and to serve as their role models.
We the people need to ask ourselves why is this taking place, any religion except Muslim is not allowed in schools and also in public places, who is to be held accountable? Is it the school boards or the supreme courts for making the judgment?
This blatant disrespect for western beliefs is a slap in the face for everyone who is not Muslim, this war against Christian beliefs is far from over. It is up to the people to effect change at a government level.