Many were flabbergasted when they learned that secondary schools were setting aside rooms to allow Muslim students to pray. Aren’t public schools in Quebec secular?
The right to secular public services as enshrined in Bill 21 requires respect for religious neutrality, not in the sense of representing all religions, but of representing none. In addition, the Education Act amending the status of school boards put an end to spiritual animation services in schools.
How is it then that school principals continue to comply with requests for places of worship? This is because under the law aimed at providing a framework for requests for religious accommodation (better known as Law 62), public institutions are required to grant religious accommodations under certain conditions, in particular respecting the principle of religious neutrality of the State, equality between men and women, and not harming the proper functioning of the establishment.
It is in this legislative context that principals, such as the Mont-De-La Salle secondary school in Laval discussed this week, are trying to “buy peace” by acquiescing to the demands of Muslim students. on the basis of religious freedom, while respecting Law 21 and the obligations imposed by the law on religious accommodation. But no one is bound to the impossible.
In the case of the Laval school, the director general of the school service center (CSS), Yves-Michel Volcy, explains that it is not a place of prayer, but a place “not denominational” open to all. However, in fact, the only reason the “resource” room was made available was that about 60 Muslim students were praying in the stairwells, fire exits and parking lots. It is therefore a place of prayer exclusive to Muslims, which contravenes the religious neutrality of the school.
According to information obtained by Cogeco Nouvelles, the girls were refused entry to the prayer room1. This information has been contradicted by Mr. Volcy, who however explains that the boys and girls “did not mix”2. How to accept this situation and maintain, in the same breath, that it is a mixed room open to all? Whether it is a question of prohibiting access to girls, of alternately alternating between boys and girls or, as is customary in the Muslim religion, of letting the girls pray behind the boys, all of this contravenes the principle of gender equality and has no place in school.
In 2016, as part of the departure of a dozen young people from Cégep Maisonneuve for the jihad in Syria, the Center for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence (CPRLV) produced a very instructive report3 on the climate of radicalization that is was installed there. In order to respond to a request for a place of prayer, the management of the cégep had made available to the students a place of renewal as well as a room for Friday prayers. Far from contributing to better living together, this only fueled a climate of radicalization, community withdrawal and mutual distrust within the CEGEP.
The pressure is particularly strong during the month of Ramadan, with those who do not fast exposing themselves to the accusation of being “bad Muslims”. This is how young schoolchildren spend the day without eating, to the detriment of their health and their studies.
The presence of places of prayer in schools only reinforces this control by giving the possibility to some to monitor who is praying and who is not.
The information obtained by Cogeco Nouvelles for the Laval secondary school reports a climate of fear. It is mentioned in particular that Muslim teachers who have fled Islamism in their country are worried about finding “the same thing” in their school.
The director general of the CSS de Laval also notes that the number of students praying in the hallways and other inappropriate places in the school is unprecedented. This information is correlated with other testimonies relating to an intensification, in recent months, of requests for places of prayer, as if a watchword had been issued4.
However, this excess of religiosity can only be accentuated if we give in to claims. Far from concluding that the granting of a prayer room has contributed to improving living together, the 2016 CPRLV report rather describes a situation that has only worsened.
As citizens of Muslim culture, we are concerned about the increase in such unreasonable religious claims, unjustified by the Muslim religion itself, damaging to the image of Muslims in the country and putting our young people at risk of radicalization.
For all these reasons, we welcome the decision of the Minister of Education, Bernard Drainville, to ban prayer rooms in schools, including those disguised as “healing rooms”. It is simply impossible to reconcile such religious accommodations with the requirement to ensure the right of the population to a secular public school.