Oh, my dear Alberta.
Yes, we have just ousted a party that had been in power long enough to get a real sense of entitlement going.
We are still a socially-conservative province (though perhaps not so conservative as we might think). So we do occasionally get the same issues cropping up here as our southern neighbours get regularly. Today, I’m going to deal with the issue of school prayer.
Most recently, it is a school in Taber, in southern Alberta: Dr. Hamman Elementary School. What’s particularly interesting here is that they stopped morning prayers back in 2013. But the board has decided to reinstate them. (1, 2)
According to the article, they stopped prayers in response to complaints from parents. And now they’ve done a survey, where around 73% of families (91% of respondents) said they wanted prayer. So they’re bringing it back.
I understand that we need to respect everyone’s rights. And, to that end, I would say the obvious solution is for schools not to officially promote any particular kind of prayer. Does that sound one-sided and biased? It sure is one-sided, because the truth is one-sided. Anyone arguing for compassion, religious freedom, respectful education should be on the side of no school-led prayers. Here are the arguments I’ve come across:
Reasons for school prayer:
- “It acknowledges the Christian heritage of our country.” Really? We have to alienate students who don’t share those beliefs, in order to respect and remember our heritage? Nonsense.
- “It promotes community cohesion.” Except if you aren’t a member of one of the Christian churches behind this move. I guess the rest of us can just stand outside while the rest of you cohere our community, eh?
- “It supports the right to religious freedom of the majority of students.” This is a right that people have with or without government-sponsored prayer. Those students who want to pray can do so anyway. Honestly, nothing is stopping them. That’s the same religious liberty that non-Christians are content with in schools.*
Reasons against school prayer:
- It promotes one religion above others – something a secular school system has no place doing.
- It makes some students feel ostracised. This marginalization is more of a problem in more Christian-dominant communities, so using a petition or survey as this school council did is exactly backwards (if students’ well-being is important).
- It opens authorities to the embarrassment and expense of lawsuits, launched on behalf of marginalized students and families.
- Assuming school prayer is allowed, the principle of equality suggests that non-Christian invocations should also be allowed. Perhaps we could spend the first hours of every school day reciting the basic creeds of all religious groups that students might belong to. How would you feel about your kids learning Buddhist meditation? The Muslim salat? No? Now maybe you see how some of us feel about you pushing prayer on our kids.
Honestly, people: the cause of religious liberty is, in this as in so many other cases, promoted by ensuring a secular public sphere (ie, a public sphere that isn’t bent on imposing one particular form of religion over any other).
* I have occasionally heard the claim from religious that they are actively prevented from praying in public spaces. I have yet to hear any substantial evidence that this is the case, but let me be clear. Preventing someone from praying (so long as they aren’t disrupting others’ freedom to go about their business) is not okay. If you feel you are being unjustly prevented from exercising your religious freedom, let me know. I condemn any unnecessary infringement on religious freedom, and would happily use my little soapbox here to speak against it.
[Edit: I’ve just seen this editorial from the Taber Times, which states things very clearly and eloquently.]