Relaymedia

68% Say Prayer has Place in Classroom

Dec 04, 2002 04:56 PM EST

A solid majority of Canadians believes prayer has a place in the classroom, a National Post/Global National poll has found.

When asked "should prayer be allowed in public schools," 68% of respondents to the country-wide poll said yes, compared with 28% who said no.

The results underline a theme of anti-religious political correctness that has emerged in government institutions this month, despite a seemingly tolerant public. For example, Toronto bureaucrats were forced by public outcry to declare the city's "holiday tree" is, in fact, a Christmas tree, while The Royal Canadian Mint rebuffed criticism of its television ads, which feature the carol The Twelve Days of Giving.

The poll by COMPAS Inc., which gauged public support for freedom of religion in education, found moderate support for the use of public funds in religious schools, but strong opposition to schools that discriminate in hiring teachers based on religious principles.

Of the 608 people polled, nearly two-thirds, or 63%, said a religious school should not be allowed to ban same-sex couples from school dances, as nearly happened at a school in Ontario's Durham Region this year. Only a provincial court injunction allowed Marc Hall, a gay teenager, to attend his prom with a male date.

A strong majority of 71% agreed a religious school should not be allowed to avoid hiring a homosexual teacher if the teacher is otherwise satisfactory.

Slightly less than half of respondents, or 42%, said religious-affiliated schools that meet educational standards should receive partial funding, compared with 29% who favoured full funding and 19% who favoured none. A further 4% said only Catholic schools should be publicly funded.

Catholic schools in Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan receive full funding from the province, and in other provinces there are different arrangements whereby religious schools can receive up to 50% funding. Also, in Ontario, a system of tax credits for 50% of tuition at private religious schools is being phased in at 10% a year.

On the prayer question, Karen Mock, executive director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundations, said that most Canadians, unlike most Americans, are comfortable with religion in the classroom so long as it is not limited to one particular religion.

"To involve students in a faith claim that is not their own, or to require that they pray for a religion that is not their own, is against our human rights law," said Dr. Mock, who testified as a psychologist before the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission on the use of the Lord's Prayer in Saskatoon schools.

Ailsa Watkinson, a sociologist and author of Education, Student Rights and the Charter, said she found the results of the poll "disconcerting," because she says the use of prayer in the classroom "divides public education."

Dr. Watkinson, a Christian who sends her three sons to public schools in Saskatoon, said classroom prayer "excludes certain people from the community of what a school is supposed to be about, and from the cohesion that a school is trying to build.... To promote Christian prayer is a violation of the rights of children."

In Saskatoon, the school board was ordered by the provincial Human Rights Commission in 1999 to stop starting the day with the Lord's Prayer, during which non-Christians were generally asked to leave the room. Public school boards in Manitoba, Ontario and British Columbia have also outlawed the practice after provincial courts ruled it contravened freedom of religion provisions in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In Ontario, where reciting the prayer was banned in 1989, the day's opening exercises are to be used for fostering "patriotism and education."

The negative effects of single-religion prayer in schools may not be quite so grim as some believe, though. As the late Mordecai Richler once wrote, "some of my best friends are Jews, and I know none who have grown up twitchy, lacking in self-esteem, and charged with self-hatred because their 'normal cognitive development' was interfered with during the days they were excused from classes while sleepyheaded Christian kids mumbled their morning prayers. On the contrary, in our Montreal case we felt blessed, running free in the hall."

jority of Canadians believes prayer has a place in the classroom, a National Post/Global National poll has found.

When asked "should prayer be allowed in public schools," 68% of respondents to the country-wide poll said yes, compared with 28% who said no.

The results underline a theme of anti-religious political correctness that has emerged in government institutions this month, despite a seemingly tolerant public. For example, Toronto bureaucrats were forced by public outcry to declare the city's "holiday tree" is, in fact, a Christmas tree, while The Royal Canadian Mint rebuffed criticism of its television ads, which feature the carol The Twelve Days of Giving.

The poll by COMPAS Inc., which gauged public support for freedom of religion in education, found moderate support for the use of public funds in religious schools, but strong opposition to schools that discriminate in hiring teachers based on religious principles.

Of the 608 people polled, nearly two-thirds, or 63%, said a religious school should not be allowed to ban same-sex couples from school dances, as nearly happened at a school in Ontario's Durham Region this year. Only a provincial court injunction allowed Marc Hall, a gay teenager, to attend his prom with a male date.

A strong majority of 71% agreed a religious school should not be allowed to avoid hiring a homosexual teacher if the teacher is otherwise satisfactory.

Slightly less than half of respondents, or 42%, said religious-affiliated schools that meet educational standards should receive partial funding, compared with 29% who favoured full funding and 19% who favoured none. A further 4% said only Catholic schools should be publicly funded.

Catholic schools in Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan receive full funding from the province, and in other provinces there are different arrangements whereby religious schools can receive up to 50% funding. Also, in Ontario, a system of tax credits for 50% of tuition at private religious schools is being phased in at 10% a year.

On the prayer question, Karen Mock, executive director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundations, said that most Canadians, unlike most Americans, are comfortable with religion in the classroom so long as it is not limited to one particular religion.

"To involve students in a faith claim that is not their own, or to require that they pray for a religion that is not their own, is against our human rights law," said Dr. Mock, who testified as a psychologist before the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission on the use of the Lord's Prayer in Saskatoon schools.

Ailsa Watkinson, a sociologist and author of Education, Student Rights and the Charter, said she found the results of the poll "disconcerting," because she says the use of prayer in the classroom "divides public education."

Dr. Watkinson, a Christian who sends her three sons to public schools in Saskatoon, said classroom prayer "excludes certain people from the community of what a school is supposed to be about, and from the cohesion that a school is trying to build.... To promote Christian prayer is a violation of the rights of children."

In Saskatoon, the school board was ordered by the provincial Human Rights Commission in 1999 to stop starting the day with the Lord's Prayer, during which non-Christians were generally asked to leave the room. Public school boards in Manitoba, Ontario and British Columbia have also outlawed the practice after provincial courts ruled it contravened freedom of religion provisions in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In Ontario, where reciting the prayer was banned in 1989, the day's opening exercises are to be used for fostering "patriotism and education."

The negative effects of single-religion prayer in schools may not be quite so grim as some believe, though. As the late Mordecai Richler once wrote, "some of my best friends are Jews, and I know none who have grown up twitchy, lacking in self-esteem, and charged with self-hatred because their 'normal cognitive development' was interfered with during the days they were excused from classes while sleepyheaded Christian kids mumbled their morning prayers. On the contrary, in our Montreal case we felt blessed, running free in the hall."

FROM THE POLL:

63% say a religious school should not be allowed to ban same-sex couples from school dances.

71% agree a religious school should not be allowed to avoid hiring a homosexual teacher if the teacher is otherwise satisfactory.

42% say religious-affiliated schools that meet educational standards should receive partial funding.

By J. Brean