The Muddy Waters of Religion in Ontario Public Schools

BY KYLEEN GRAY

To avoid controversy, one must divert discussions away from issues relating to politics and religion. This article will touch on both topics, so fair warning! There have recently been many debates about religion in Ontario public schools – especially focusing on the double standard of minority religions being given special privileges.

I was recently invited to participate in a smudging ceremony at my public school. During the ceremony, our collective souls were ‘cleansed’ by the practice of smudging or bathing in smoke; this is quite relatable to the washing of sins via showers of holy water that occur in Christian masses. Smudging is an activity that is open to students to participate in during the school day in some public schools across the province of Ontario. Due to this practice, smudging in public schools hasn’t been without controversy.

There are many articles on the topic that a quick Google search can discover; also, a mother in B.C. sued a local school board in 2016 after her children were pressured into participating in smudging, which she viewed as a religious ceremony. Reading the aforementioned articles on the topic of the smudging debate led me to another religious controversy: allowing Muslim Imams to preach every Friday in some Toronto public schools.

In this context, another minority religious group has been allowed special privileges in Ontario public schools that any other religious group would be scoffed at for even requesting. These examples are significant, as since the 1980s, all aspects of the Christian religion were removed from all Ontario public schools: prayers were banned, as were Christmas concerts and Easter teas.

Recently, public school teachers have been pressured by board officials to even avoid Christian salutations, like “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Easter.” The Ontario School Boards Council is quoted on their website as encouraging religious diversity in Ontario public schools. However, this ‘diversity’ seems to be far from egalitarian for all religious practices, and in my opinion that reflects political hypocrisy at it’s best.

To ban religious activities from Ontario public schools isn’t the answer to the problem: inclusion and equal opportunities should be offered to all religious practices for public school students. Only then can true ‘diversity’ exist.