17 September 2011
Religion in schools hot topic in Ontario
Everyone knows that it is a violation of the Education Act, which bars any religion in public schools," said Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC) founder Tarek Fatah. "But none of them (party leaders) has the courage to say that."
Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty, Progressive Conservative Tim Hudak and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath have stayed mum on whether they support public tax dollars funding religious studies in the public school system. Earlier this year, McGuinty said that the issue of religious accommodation is up to the school board to decide, and should align with the Ontario Human Rights Code, which promotes freedom to practise religion.
But Fatah says the politicians are passing the buck, afraid that they will lose the Muslim vote if they speak out against a regular prayer service at an east Toronto school. The public school has been permitting an afternoon Islamic prayer service in its cafeteria for its students for the past year.
An imam directs the voluntary 40-minute service every Friday, which was started after administrators realized that many students missed class because they had to leave the school to attend the service at a mosque. The school has come under fire in the past couple of months, after it was revealed that the service segregates male and female students and is not monitored by school officials.
The MCC goes as far to accuse the school of being under the thumb of the local mosque, which Fatah says is run by religious leaders who believe in sharia law and jihad.
"The public school system has become a prisoner of the mosque," he said. "Nobody is stopping these kids from going to prayer but how did a mosque end up in a public school? It's ridiculous."
The Canadian Secular Alliance, a public advocacy group calling for the separation of church and state, is organizing a protest. "Religious indoctrination should not be funded by tax dollars," said the group's president Greg Oliver.
The CSA is calling for the end of the Muslim prayer service, but also for funding to be cut from Catholic schools and Gay-Straight Alliance groups to be welcomed in all schools. "We want to make this an issue for the election," he said. "Unfortunately, the big three parties have been avoiding these issues."
This isn't the first time this has been a contentious election issue.
In the 2007 provincial election, then-PC leader John Tory promised if elected, he would spend $400 million on funding for Jewish, Muslim and other religious schools. The idea resulted in controversy, which some pundits say cost Tory the election.
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