Legal challenge mounted against Quebec restrictions on prayer in schools

Legal challenge mounted against Quebec restrictions on prayer in schools

Local Muslim leaders agree directive threatens community’s rights


By Jack Wilson

Local Journalism Initiative

The National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association are launching a court challenge against a provincial directive banning “overt prayer” in schools. The directive prohibits schools from offering prayer spaces to students. Education minister Bernard Drainville has suggested students wanting to pray should do so discreetly.

Many Muslims pray five times a day, including once around lunchtime. “The five prayers are an obligation for Muslims,” Association Culturelle Islamique de l’Estrie (ACIE) president Moustapha Saboun said. That obligation falls under Islam’s five pillars, which include fasting during Ramadan and donating a portion of income to charity. Banning open prayer in schools comes from “incomprehension and ignorance,” he added.

Drainville’s directive “supresses the rights of religious minorities and in particular those from religious groups that can’t discretely or quietly pray,” said Canadian Civil Liberties Association equality program director Harini Sivalingam. “This is definitely an extension of the Quebec government’s oppression of religious minorities.”

Schools have already stopped students from praying, said Stephen Brown, who heads the National Council of Canadian Muslims and called the directive “one of the greatest attacks on the civil liberties of Canadian children in a generation.”

“We’ve had stories of kids who have been told they’re not allowed to pray anywhere on school grounds including on the grass,” Brown said. Different schools have interpreted the decree differently, he added, resulting in uneven consequences for Muslim students.

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