Alberta’s School Act Permits Charter Violations in Allowing Religious Exercises in Public Schools

Praying HandsIt looks like it’s time for legal action against another Alberta public school for their weekly Lord’s Prayer. CTV reports that Win Ferguson public school in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta reads the Lord’s Prayer once a week at assembly and has been doing so for 37 years. A poll the school conducted reports that 90% of parents are in favour of this recitation.

One parent, Allayah Vandersleen, is unhappy with this and when she complained to the school, they told her that her daughter could read a book or sit in a hall during the reading of the Lord’s Prayer. Rightly, Vandersleen doesn’t see this as a real choice because exercising these options would make her daughter stand out as different and potentially open her up to ridicule. I agree. I was forced to recite the Lord’s Prayer when I was in elementary school and I hated doing so but I sure wasn’t going to stand outside like the Jehovah Witness kids because those kids were pretty much ostracized from the other students.

The school doesn’t seem to understand that this isn’t a majority rule situation, at least not according to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience. Foisting one particular religion (in this case Christianity) on students denies those freedoms to non-Christian students. Would the 90% of parents who agreed to the Lord’s Prayer feel the same if there were a Muslim Salat each week? I suspect not.

We’ve been here before with Alberta. In 2013, Melanie Bell complained when her child was reprimanded for not participating in the Lord’s Prayer at Dr. Hamman School in Taber, Alberta. In this case, the school decided to stop the practice.

However, things get tricky with Alberta and this is probably the reason why we keep hearing of school prayer happening in that province. Alberta’s School Act allows religion to enter classrooms. Below is the relevant section:

Religious and patriotic instruction
50(1) A board may
(a) prescribe religious instruction to be offered to its students;
(b) prescribe religious exercises for its students;
(c) prescribe patriotic instruction to be offered to its students;
(d) prescribe patriotic exercises for its students;
(e) permit persons other than teachers to provide religious instruction to its students.
(2) Where a teacher or other person providing religious or patriotic instruction receives a written request signed by a parent of a student that the student be excluded from religious or patriotic instruction or exercises, or both, the teacher or other person shall permit the student
(a) to leave the classroom or place where the instruction or exercises are taking place for the duration of the instruction or exercises, or
(b) to remain in the classroom or place without taking part in the instruction or exercises.

I don’t expect a provincial act to trump the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and according to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association article about the 2013 case:

Canadian courts have recognized the effect of peer pressure in the classroom, which may effectively compel members of religious minorities to comply with religious practices and thus violate a child’s freedom of religion and conscience.

It’s time Alberta’s School Act faced a constitutional challenge. Similar challenges have occurred in Ontario and BC:  In 1988, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that the provincial legislation that required religious exercises in public schools at the beginning and end of each day was unconstitutional because it violates s. 2(a) of the Charter. In 1989, the BC Supreme Court ruled similarly.

I hope Allayah Vandersleen helps change Alberta’s antiquated School Act; it has no place in a public school.

14 thoughts on “Alberta’s School Act Permits Charter Violations in Allowing Religious Exercises in Public Schools

  1. It never ceases to amaze me the hypocrisy within Christianity. They are more than willing to force such things as prayer in schools and never see it as an infringement on those of whom do not believe the same, yet all the while get up in arms when it is requested that such things be removed from public arenas. Seems their motto may be, “We can tell you what to do, but do not dare tell us what to do!” They can dish it out, but they sure can not take it.

  2. Thank you for this post! It helps me a great deal with backing up my case. I am fighting this! It is mostly thanks to the parents who keep giving me dirty looks and to all the wonderful hate mail I have been receiving from the “Good” Christians themselves…things like I have no morals, I should home school, I am evil, I am trying to set my child up to fail and the list goes on. I have support from many people and now understand their fears in coming forward with this…Some people of “Faith” can become quite verbally abusive.

    • Good for you Alayah. That survey sounds ridiculous. Big shocker that most of the CHRISTIAN population wants Lord’s Prayer. The charter of rights and freedoms guarantees protection for society’s minorities, no matter what popularity dictates. There are probably many who support you at your school.

  3. I admire Alayah for standing up to the christian bullies! Alberta is the “bible belt” of Canada, and is a perfect place to launch a challenge. Yes, the Canadian Charter trumps any Provincial Act and a public school board has no right to push religion on anyone. Shame on the Alberta School Board – It is time to climb out of the past.

    • I am challenging the School Act, through Human Rights because as a Pagan I have no other options other than Public school for my child, Public school is a school for all faiths to learn what they need in a united secular fashion. There are religious schools for the various religions so it is time we keep our public schools just that… Public & for all children. I have switched schools and no longer have my child attend the Win Ferguson School. The process with Human rights can be lengthy but I have a case & I will proceed no matter how long it takes, I will fix this!

      • Good for you,I admire the courage and will to do this, it’s such a antiquated thing to force prayer in schools, like living in the dark ages.

  4. Alayah,

    Our local public school says the Lord’s Prayer every morning at assembly. We have complained, but currently they have stood by the Alberta School Act, which they claim gives them permission to say prayers in school.

    Maybe we could work together to change this policy.

    • I suggest filing a complaint with Human rights, the more complaints they receive the more likely things will change and our children may hopefully be free of this personally invasive “Christian” agenda. No one, NOT A single being should be allowed to push their faith on another, ESPECIALLY children! When did it become ok to use children as tools to push faith? I keep hearing this kid or that wants to sue some teacher or school board because they are not allowed to try to force their religion upon other children. IT IS A SCHOOL, A PUBLIC SCHOOL PEOPLE! This is not a church or mission it is a children’s public school. Prayer has no place in a school that is why there are TAX EXEMPT churches, Christian & catholic schools. Get over your false sense of entitlement people, we all have to live together, it is time to keep your faith to yourself and let the rest of us live our lives peacefully without religious harassment & coercion!

  5. Pingback: Alberta Parents Vote to Keep Prayer in School | Canadian Atheist

  6. I am probably going to file a human rights complaint in M.B. The public school’s act section 84, violates the charter of rights and freedom for all children. The supreme Court of Canada stated in 2015 ” majority faith movements in a public sphere are unconstitutional”.

    It is unconstitutional for majority faiths to bring group recited prayer into schools via petions and opt in opt out programs.

    The supreme Court of Canada also said you can’t put pressure on children in public schools by singling them out for their religious beliefs. School acts in many provinces violate the charter. Letters to news paper editors will help get the message out loud and clear to more activists and the general public.

    Let’s all do something to change these unconstitutional laws.

    • I completely agree and that is why I am challenging the Alberta Act through Human Rights. The Alberta Act cannot, & Will not Trump the Constitution, what the religious have been doing to the general public has gotten out of hand… Not to mention they defy their own belief system by praying in public as Mathew 6:5 of their their Bible says, or more accurately, commands that they go and pray in private, to go to their room, close the door & pray in private not like the hypocrites who strand in the synagogues. So if it goes against their God’s wishes why do they do it…? The only reason I can think of is Coercion, they are hoping to instill the Christian mindset in the children while they are young, It is sick, it goes against their own Gods commands & as a minority I feel helpless & ignored…because when I asked if they would replace prayer with a moment of silence so that all children of all beliefs or non beliefs could feel comfortable I was met with annoyed quotes of the Alberta Act, as if their religion trumps my rights as a Canadian Citizen and this angers me… a Lot! I hope to change the laws, so that children everywhere in all Public schools will be able to feel comfortable, and not coerced into a faith that is not their own. My case is now in the hands of the Director as I have agreed to challenge the Alberta Act.

  7. Alayah, thanks for the Bible quote it will come in useful as I am told my child’s school is hosting a town meeting because of the letter I wrote to them. In your legal case will human rights be going after the school or the provincial government? Please let us know if you can.

    Thank-you, Kris

    • I am challenging the Alberta School Act, I believe this issue is beyond the School level at this point, and after speaking with the Minister of Education, I have learned that the School act is what they are clinging to in order to have the prayer in the schools. Because the schools are public, and a variety of faiths pay the taxes & fees to have their children attend such a public school, it goes against basic human rights to allow a specific prayer to be heard or recited by the rest of the students, having the child leave the room or not participate should not be an option either as our public schools are supposed to make all children feel welcome & comfortable, not isolated & different, our Public schools are not just for Christian children, they are for children of all faiths and it is time the Alberta School act was reviewed as it has all too often trampled on the rights we are supposed to have as Canadians & as human beings, including the right to education free from coercion & religious influence. As a Pagan my only option is to send my child to Public school, but people of faith have specific, Islamic, Catholic of Christian schools they may attend. I was always told the religious were caring people who take other’s feelings into consideration… but after experiencing this awful battle & being forced to leave a school so Prayer can stay has made me realize they only care about themselves. They kept shoving the fact that they voted and I was outvoted there fore I should just drop it…I felt the only option was to leave the school and it’s a good thing I transferred my daughter out. I went back on a Monday to pick up her remaining school supplies and there even in the hallway (The place the children are to go to Not hear the prayer) I could hear the Lords Prayer announced loud and clear for all to hear, including those children who parents like me were forced to sign a paper having our child sit in the hall, but like I said it is announced throughout the entire school. This must be fought at a provincial level, The Alberta Act must be reviewed and revised.

  8. I empathize deeply for what you and your family have suffered. This same reciting, (petition driven), is occurring in other provinces as well and it is so wrong. I admire you so much for fighting this with the help of the Human Rights Commission. You are a strong and caring woman. Thank-you for being brave enough to do this. I have so much admiration for your strength of character.

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