The practice of some public schools in Ontario to allow Muslim Friday congregational prayers during school hours, and within the school’s space for students, has created controversy and aroused strong feelings amongst other faith groups. Unfortunately, some of these feelings have become anti-Muslim.
We appreciate the non- Catholic Toronto District School Board’s effort to implement “freedom of religion” by accommodating the religious needs of their Muslim students. However the provision of school space, such as the cafeteria at Valley Park Middle School, raises a number of questions which require careful consideration.
The Director of Education of TDSB, Chris Spence, made a statement, July 8/2011, explaining their decision. He states that “freedom of religion” has led to this accommodation. He continues, “The division of the sexes which occurs during the service is part of the Islamic faith. Students who participate in the prayer services do so voluntarily and with parental permission, and no one is obligated to participate.” There are issues with this statement which we will address later.