Prayers in public schools

When Shahina Siddiqui resorts to defending her position by name calling after opening her rant with a breathless invocation of Western accomplishments (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Geneva Convention, Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms), she derides the very institutions she relies on for religious accommodation.

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The fact that I would never permit my daughter to be excluded from any activity based on her menstrual cycle or learn to sit behind boys does not prevent me from accepting religious institutions in the private sphere where they belong. This is not a “version” of secularism but a tolerant expression of diversity within a secular society.

Accusations of prejudice and ignorance conveniently serve to silence any questioning of double standards that girls are subjected to in any culture or religion.

This I find particularly insidious: let me practise mine and keep your mouth shut or else you get labelled an ignorant, prejudiced, gender Nazi. Heather Mallick has it right when she says that children leaving school for Friday prayers is a disciplinary matter not a religious one in a public school system.

Luisa Quarta, Toronto Heather Mallick’s column on second-rate school girls was first rate. If we look at the historical record of the relationship between religion and schools, it’s likely that this detestable practice of dehumanizing young women will continue for some time.

Catholic schools across the country are still funded by taxpayers even though the Catholic Church continues to preach hatred toward gays and lesbians and by its very dogma casts women in a subservient role. But then, there’s the rub.If Muslims aren’t allowed to practice their antiquated “customs,” they can point their judgmental fingers at the other misogynist group, who have been preaching their own spurious hidebound rhetoric with government approval since the country was founded. What is most tragic about the subjugation of women (whether it’s done by secular society backed by silly tradition or religious groups backed by dogmatic fiction) is that it weakens the entire social structure.

Societies that recognize sexual equality where woman can exercise their rights and enjoy the same opportunities as men are always more sophisticated, enlightened, healthier, happier and far more productive. If Canada wants to be known as a country that extols the virtue of human rights, then all government entities must be fearless in the protection of women.

The Toronto District School Board needs to step up and put an end to this hateful segregation that hamstrings learning and is poisonous to everyone. Bruce Clark, Winnipeg Leaving aside her unhelpful name-calling, Shahina Siddiqui entirely misses the point in assuming that freedom of religion always and absolutely trumps all other rights, laws and values in this country and then in perversely framing the issue as simply an attack on Islam.

Although some aspects of Islamic thought or practice may not conform to general “Canadian values,” the primary issue here is whether a public school, legislated to be secular, should allow or enable any religious activity on its premises.

The fact that doing so in this case might be seen as condoning misogyny is not the issue, though certainly a cause for concern.Shahina Siddiqui does not even seem to understand what secular means, referring to “radicals . . . imposing their version of secularism.” Secularism has just one meaning — the exclusion of religion. Accommodation is not an absolute. In this country, unlike in many Islamic ones, Siddiqui and her fellow Muslims are free to practise their religion any way and any time they want — they just cannot insist on doing so anywhere that they want.

Garry Lamourie, Toronto I found it interesting that Shahina Siddiqui’s closing comment that differences should be viewed through a “prism of acceptance and diversity” was preceded by her view that those who offer an opinion different than her own on the “girls at prayer” issue are secular extremists, gender Nazis, radicals and inquisitors. Perhaps Siddiqui should adopt a more tolerant and respectful tone when addressing views that do not match her own.

Nick Lerway, Scarborough Shahina Siddiqui’s argument would have been stronger without the ad hominem attacks against those who disagree with her. Calling people who disagree with her interpretation of the situation “gender Nazis” is completely unnecessary and offensive. The Nazis committed genocide: let us not compare people to them lightly.

Lisa LaForest, Toronto Heather Mallick needs to educate herself on Islam before she forms an opinion. I wonder if she asked any of the female students at Valley Park Middle School if they had a problem with the issues she brought up in her article.

As a Muslim, I have no issues praying behind the men, and I actually prefer it. She also has an issue with the fact that the Imam is male and not female. Aren’t Catholic priests male? I do agree with her that school is for study and religion should be left at home but she is making the issue seem solely on segregation when that is not the case.

Safa M. Syed, Brampton It is clear that Muslims have no other choice than to open our own schools. There is nothing we can do that does not raise some ones hackles. First it was prayers in the school, then it is females praying at the back — notwithstanding the fact that many Orthodox Jewish services have separate seating arrangement for men and women and that women in every mosque throughout the world pray in this manner. It has nothing to do with the status of women. I am sure someone will object when we start opening our schools.

Shah Nawaz Husain, Brampton I agree completely with Heather Mallick’s column. We are not discussing religion. We are revulsed that in 2011, in Ontario, girls in public schools are being singled out because they are menstruating.

Paul Laprise-Haslip, Pain Court In Canada, we allow far greater diversity than many other countries in this world, particularly Muslim countries. However, religion is a personal belief and it is also a delusion.

The world is full of those claiming “the one true religion,” with each and every religion different from the next and each one just as wrong as the next. If you wish to believe in your chosen delusion, that’s your business.

However, you have absolutely no right to make it mine and that is precisely what you do when you bring your religion into the publicly funded school system that I support with my taxes. If you want your kids to have their religion in their schools then the answer is to fund your schools entirely at your own expense and leave the overloaded taxpayer out of it. I am not anti-Islam. I am anti-religion, no matter what the belief. The same should also apply to Catholics and every other religious group that wants religion in schools. Religion has absolutely no place in publicly funded schools.

James Knott, Mississauga I am totally shocked at what is going on in that school. A school is a temple of education where you are taught to be secular and tolerant, not to practise any religious obligations or highlight some of the norms totally unacceptable in this day and age.

What are we teaching the new generation — that it’s okay for the girls to stand behind men because men (teenagers) are not civilized enough to control their senses/feelings? How come this does not happen in a classroom when they are all together? A Canadian school is a place where no matter what you are (gender religion, race) is place to get education and learn the ways of a civilized world not to showcase your religion or its norms. Re:

Ritu Sinha Ashai, Toronto Canada must make its mind up. Is it a secular society or is it religious? The French revolution was largely about establishing a completely secular society, with no infringement of those secular laws, rights and obligations by religious factions.

That is why France can deal effectively with religious issues in the public domain. We must do the same. In Canada, we have already seen the Lord’s Day Observance Act taken down by secular laws. We have seen the Catholic Church’s edicts regarding abortion and divorce overruled by our secular laws. It is time to accord and enforce our secular code of equality for all — in theory, fact and practice for all religious denominations. The Islamic view of women — menstruation, clothing, ideology and so on — is, quite frankly, discriminatory. It should not be countenanced in our schools or other public places.

Peter Weygang, Bobcaygeon Christian prayers are out of public schools, Catholics are segregated to their own schools, and yet, Muslims should have rights the rest of us do not, according to Shahina Siddiqui. Not only do Muslim prayer services in public schools “infringe on the rights of others,” they particularly infringe on the educational equality rights of Muslim girls. Evidently, this demonstration (regardless of teaching) of inequality “tradition is lifted” during pilgrimage “to accommodate” numbers. Only an extremist would hold that tradition should not be “lifted . . . to accommodate” Canadian law and other Canadians in Canada. To use Siddiqui’s own words, this “cannot go unchallenged.

” E. Smith, Richmond Hill I always look forward to Heather Mallick’s columns and her Tuesday piece was tremendous. Our Canadian Charter was ignored by the way in which these young “Canadian” girls were treated. I wonder how long it is before the TDSB provides the Muslim community with an opportunity to conduct workshops on the merits of stoning and honour killing. I’m sick of all religious groups — Muslim, Christian and Jewish. They’re all misogynistic organizations and we’re all afraid to state the obvious. A pox on all their houses.

Tom Dykes, Toronto I am a regular Star subscriber and without a doubt the highlight for me in virtually every issue is Heather Mallick’s column. I love how she cuts through to the core of an issue and calls it as she sees it. Her eloquence and the often “acid tinged” words speak volumes about the issue she addresses each time.

Ron Speer, Georgetown Do these menstruating girls share their opinions with the boys in health classes and gymnasiums, discussing safe sex practices, jock straps, head scarves, brain development and hormones, or are they segregated?

Elizabeth Gilarowski, Toronto These columns go to show that anything can be rationalized when there is the will to promote your particular point of view. By “gender Nazis” does Ms Siddiqui mean feminists who have fought hard-won battles for women’s rights? While I certainly support a tradition of diversity, those traditions should not trump respect for women’s rights.

Janet Holter, Toronto I applaud Valley Park Middle School’s step toward increased tolerance and respect for the different groups existing in Canada. Aside from the nitty-gritty details people have pecked at in this issue, it seems what lies at its core is Islamophobia and anti-religion sentiments in general. As Canadians, it’s imperative that we learn from and respect each other’s differences rather than make judgments on topics we know little about.

We should celebrate the diversity in our country rather than suppress our identities in the name of “secularism.” I strongly encourage future steps to be taken in support of pluralism, with the hope that we’ll see an end to the ethnocentric comments we’re hearing today.

Maria Iqbal, Brampton Let the students pray at school, Editorial July 6 I agree with your stand that schools such as Valley Park should accommodate religious beliefs. I believe that accommodating the religious belief of these students means allowing them the freedom to practice those beliefs without fear of any repercussions. I do have a problem with the school board providing taxpayer-funded space to enable this religious group to hold their prayer meetings.

It is the sole responsibility of the members of the religion, not the duty of society, to provide the physical resources that any religious group needs to express its beliefs. By giving free space to these students, the school board is forcing non-believing taxpayers to help provide the resources these students need to practice their religion.

This discriminates against taxpayers who do not share these same beliefs. Likely, this is the basis of the Canadian Hindu Advocacy complaint you mentioned. How long will it be before other religions start demanding free space in schools for their religious services? I do believe in accommodation. I think the simple solution would be to charge fair market value rent for any religious use of public school space.

Chris Heron, Toronto Religious instruction of school-aged children/young people is the responsibility, first and foremost, of their parents and the established religious institutions in our communities. It should always remain strictly voluntary. I am an evangelical Baptist believer and I certainly don’t want my faith or any other religious faith to be taught in public school systems to any age group or at any level of schooling. We have four children and we sent them to private Christian schools with total cost being carried by us with no tax exemptions. That is the way it should always be done.

Mel Lyons,Kincardine I am disgusted by the practice of segregating girls who menstruate and girls behind boys during Muslim prayer in Valley Park Middle School. The TDSB has human rights and gender equity policies that seem to be completely ignored in the guise of “religious freedom.” What does this freedom entail, the right to shame and humiliate girls? How despicable and misogynist.

Diane Sullivan, Toronto School, by its definition, is an institution for educating children; a place of learning. I do not agree that the public school system should permit Muslim students to use the school as an extension of their church.

Canada is not a Muslim country and Muslims who choose to make Canada their home should understand and accept this. Freedom of religion is a right in this country, but not in our public schools. In many Muslim countries, practicing another religion is not permitted. Thankfully, this is not true here; however, we must separate religion and the public school system.

Denise Wittmann, CambridgeI just wanted to thank you for your editorial in support of Friday prayers at school. This issue is being blown out of proportion and it’s nice to give readers some perspective. As someone who was grateful to have a school that allowed students to lead prayers, I really appreciate media outlets like yourself supporting this practice as it greatly helps students balance education and faith.

Waleed Ahmed, Toronto Valley Park Middle School’s decision to allow its Muslim students space for Friday prayers is impressive. Our society is desperately in need of wise and tolerant decisions. To those people who think otherwise and find Valley Park’s decision a subject for outrage, here’s my suggestion: turn your outrage and energy toward situations where it will be useful.

There are organizations to help homeless people on the streets of Toronto and people in this city with not enough to eat. If these local issues aren’t stirring enough, take a look at the recent reports on the refugee situation at the borders of Kenya and Somalia. There is not enough water, not enough food and children and adults are dying daily, while the growing numbers of new refugees from drought ridden Somalia places an increasing burden on the limited assistance already available. Put your outrage to work in a way that will do good.

 

http://www.thestar.com/opinion/letters/article/1025484–prayers-in-public-schools

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