Quebec education minister wants to ban prayer in classrooms

"It's not just like we're secular and we want you to be secular, it's like you're disrespecting a person's basic rights," says mother of three, Mubenaah Mughal, after Quebec says they want prayer rooms banned from schools. Alyssia Rubertucci reports.

Quebec’s education minister intends to forbid prayer in the province’s classrooms.

Bernard Drainville says he will send a directive to school boards outlining his decision.

On Wednesday at the National Assembly, Drainville said it was brought to his attention that at least two schools are allowing students to gather in a room to pray.

“And I don’t find that transforming a classroom into a prayer room, I don’t find that compatible with the secularism of the state,” Drainville said.

“Schools in Quebec are secular and they must remain so. And so, I will send a directive within the school services to ensure that the classrooms remain classrooms and do not become prayer rooms.”

On Tuesday, the minister had asked schools not to reserve prayer rooms for a single religion and to ensure that equality between men and women is respected.

He went a step further on Wednesday, without prohibiting prayer altogether in schools.

“There are all kinds of ways to pray,” he said. “I can’t ban prayer. I ban prayer in classrooms. Now if someone wants to pray silently, that’s their basic right.”

Pascal Bérubé, the Parti Québécois MNA for Matane-Matapédia, had denounced the schools on Tuesday, saying praying in the classroom went against secularism.

Bérubé reported Wednesday that a third school was added to the list.

Students were praying in parking lot, CSS Laval says

A high school in Laval, Mont-de-La Salle, was among them, the Centre de services scolaire de Laval confirmed to CityNews.

The school service says it dedicated a room for students because many of them were praying in common areas such as the parking lot, which represented a “security risk.”

CSS Laval says the room became available as of Friday at noon, was open to all students regardless of religion or gender, and was watched at all times by an adult.

“The school’s code of conduct had to be respected at all times in this room,” CSS Laval said in an emailed statement.

“Contemplation had to be done individually and no spiritual or religious animation of the room was allowed. This space was non-denominational.”

The school service says it intends to abide by Drainville’s instructions as it awaits more information from Quebec’s Ministry of Education.

Example of systemic racism, Quebec mother says

A Muslim mother of three in Quebec says she is infuriated by the news, which she claims is even more disrespectful because it came during the holy month.

Mubeenah Mughal believes the Quebec government is showing it has no understanding of how Muslims pray.

“So even if some people might not regularly pray, you would find these Muslims fasting or praying in the month of Ramadan. And many Muslims will observe even if the rest of the year they might not necessarily observe,” said the mother of a 12-, 16- and 19-year-old.

“You’re going to miss a prayer probably. Because practising Muslims pray five times a day. And for me, it’s unreal also to put this announcement in the month of Ramadan. We’re meant to be patient. Many of us are not eating or drinking. And I’m sure many other Muslims are upset or emotional.”

Mughal says as a kid she sometimes had to pray in uncommon places, like stairwells.

She says there are many institutions that have prayer spaces.

“It’s not something possible for us to pray silently,” she said. “And in airports, they do have prayer spaces. At hospitals, they have prayer spaces.”

The mother says it feels like Quebec society – especially with something like Bill 21 – is going in the wrong direction.

“I keep on feeling like, OK, we’re going to get better,” said Mughal. “But it just gets worse and we’re going backwards. I grew up here. I went to school here. I feel like things are being taken away.

“Don’t infringe on the rights of minorities. And it is unreal that we also still don’t recognize systemic racism. I mean, this would be a great example of systemic racism.”

National Council of Canadian Muslims reacts

Meanwhile the National Council of Canadian Muslims says Drainville’s interpretation of secularism is “really closed.”

“It’s not the idea of neutrality where the state stays out of religious practice or out of people’s spiritual lives,” said Stephen Brown, the group’s CEO. “We really see the state really putting itself directly in the middle of people’s spiritual lives and forbidding something like somebody from praying.”

Brown says prayer can be beneficial for students and young people.

“For students to have a place where they can do something as innocuous as simply praying, taking a couple of minutes to themselves and practise some spiritual health, seems something that would be should be encouraged, not forbidden by law,” he said.

—With files from La Presse Canadienne

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