Faith in Mr. D: Religious Accommodations in Schools

men prayingSnapshot: In this case study, a middle school principal in Canada faces a firestorm when he allows students in his majority-Muslim school to conduct Friday prayers in the school cafeteria. In the public school system of a multicultural democracy, where is the line between accommodating diversity and endorsing religion? What does it mean to treat all religious students equally? 

 

Case Description: Many Canadian provinces allow students to pray independently in schools, as part of religious accommodations that have existed for decades. However, in recent years, schools have faced pushback to this policy, particularly when they provide space for congregational prayers. Even as the country welcomes immigrants of all faiths, there's a growing movement to keep prayer out of schools.

This case study follows the principal at a majority-Muslim public middle school whose students keep missing Friday classes when they leave school to pray at a nearby mosque. When parents offer to organize Friday prayers in the school cafeteria, he thinks he has found the perfect solution to the problem. However, he soon faces criticism from conservatives and liberals alike, even among his own faculty. When teachers raise questions about the ways that religious equality might hinder gender equality, the decisions about school prayer become even more complicated. 

This case is designed to help educators, students, and community members consider the rights of religious minorities in a non-denominational school system. What happens when the rights of different groups, or a school's educational commitments, seem to conflict with one another? 

Additional Resources

  • This article, titled "A Battle Over Prayer in Schools Tests Canada's Multiculturalism," provides a helpful overview for non-Canadian audiences. 
  • For an overview of the legal obligations that public schools have to provide religious accommodations in Candada, see this article titled "Faith in the Public School System: Principles for Reconciliation." 
  • When the Toronto Public Schools faced a controversy similar to the situation in the case, many people weighed in on the debate. Writer Emma Teitel presented an argument against allowing prayer in public schools in her opinion piece in MacLean's Magazine, "Opposing Prayer in Toronto Public Schools, With Dignity.
  • Meanwhile, blogger Jesse McLaren published a piece supporting the rights of students to pray in schools, titled "Myths and Facts about the Muslim Prayer Space."
  • The Toronto District Public School Board clearly outlined their position on religious accommodation for Muslim prayers.  You can read their statement here