Cheri DiNovo Should Show Consistency on Religion in Public School Issues

Libs, PCs dodge Muslim school prayer flap: “Ontario’s two major political parties may have fought their last election over faith-based school funding, but they refuse to touch the hot potato of religious services in public schools.”

Parkdale-High Park MPP Cheri DiNovo believes children should be allowed to voluntarily use school space for religious prayers, but that full religious services are inappropriate in public schools. On this issue she is absolutely right and should be applauded for her courage in being essentially the only MPP to speak out.

A line should be drawn between students requesting use of space to organize on any issue that interests them – religion, philosophy, science, etc – and inviting an outside religious leader to lead students in a religious service. That kind of accommodation violates the charter rights of students of other religions by denying them access to parts of their public school building simply for being members of a different religion. It also violates the charter rights of teachers who, as in the case of Valley Park Secondary School, are asked to spend part of their day constructing a makeshift mosque in their school cafeteria, regardless of their own religion or lack thereof. Furthermore, regardless of the religion being granted this privilege, the fact that the teachers and school board officials are legally asked not to ask questions about the content of the religious service means that the public has no idea what messages are being sent to students within a publicly funded school building.

My only question is what Ms. Di Novo intends to tell students, parents and tax-payers who wonder how she can oppose muslim prayers in public schools while continuing to serve a party that – along with the PC and Liberals – defends full public funding to an entire faith-based school system, namely the Roman Catholic School Boards.  While paid for by members of all faiths and those of no faith, only teachers of a single religion can teach in the Roman Catholic School system, and only students of a single faith are guaranteed access to its primary schools.

Recently the Toronto District Catholic School Board amended its Equity and Inclusivity Policy to allow schools to ban Gay Straight Alliance student groups, a violation of the fundamental right of assembly that all Canadians enjoy, ruling instead that “when there is an apparent conflict between denominational rights and other rights, the board will favour the protection of the denominational right.”

Ms. Di Novo – a strong champion of gay rights and gay marriage – should be joining the Green Party in calling for the need to reform a system in which the Institute for Catholic Education – and its powerful Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario – can overrule our elected officials and the Ministry of Education to deny basic rights to students.

This issue is not about the muslim religion, nor the Roman Catholic religion. It’s about fundamental equality with respect to faith, sexual orientation, or other factors, and it’s about who ought to have authority in our schools. We believe that authority should rest ultimately with the Ministry of Education for the sake of providing a consistency to our children’s education across the province.

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