Update to Religious freedom vs gender equality at the TDSB

Update 2, July 22, 2011: See also my latest post related to this topic.

Update 1, July 20th, 2011: The mainstream media, both television and print, have now picked up on this topic and I am noticing two main themes and they are:(1) that religious accommodations in a secular school system are essentially unequal and divisive;and (2) that Ontario politicians are allowing political correctness to get in the way of political leadership.

  • First, there is the view that religious accommodations in the state sponsored school system should not be allowed because they discriminate on the basis of differences, be they religious or non-religious differences. They also negatively affect the social values of male-female equality that Canadians hold dear and which are guaranteed under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Here, for example, is an excellent article from the National Post on this theme by Jackson Doughard, a political science student at the University of PEI.
  • The second theme, in my opinion is related to political correctness and a lack of political leadership. How? Both Premier Dalton McGuinty and Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak say that it is up to school boards to decide what kind of accommodations are appropriate in any given community.  Kristin Rushowy and Rob Ferguson explain this in Parent Central (H/T Catherine) and this is a link regarding the PCs I had on another thread.

Well, I am on the side of Doughard. This issue is not going to go away even if the politicians want it to. Ontarians went to the polls in October 2007 and completely rejected the idea of faith-based funding and religion instruction in the secular system. And that is the way a democracy should work.

Original article dated July 17, 2011 started here: Why are more of the mainstream media (and feminist advocacy groups) not hammering away at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) for providing Muslim prayer services every Friday afternoon on public school property at Valley Park Middle School, when they don’t provide the same accommodations to other faiths? 

Yes, Moira MacDonald wrote about this issue, as did Terry Davidson. Interestingly, they are both SunMedia columnists. On the other hand, a quick look at this Google page will show that, for the most part, it is bloggers who have been writing on this topic.

First out of the gate, for example, was Kate at SDA. Then, Paul Bennett of Edu-Chatter wrote about it.  In fact, I would recommend a visit to Bennett’s site as there is an amazingly thorough and frank discussion still going on there.

Significant, however, is Bennett’s title: “How does praying in school hurt children?” Well, although the act of praying certainly can’t hurt a child, the blatant discrimination against children of other faiths certainly could, as could the act of separating boys from girls in the cafeteria with barricades, and having girls identify themselves as menstruating simply by where they are forced to sit.   That is, in my opinion, misogyny masquerading as religious freedom! See also Kathryn Marshall’s post on “standing up for menstruating girls.”

This is Canada in 2011 for goodness sake. While multiculturalism is great in most situations, separating boys and girls because girls are seen as a sexual threat or unclean is an abomination and should have no place in our publicly funded institutions. Ever! 

I also ended my blogging break and picked up on this topic recently with this post. My discussion, however, took a slightly different direction by comparing it to an example of back door faith-based funding and the hypocrisy of the current Liberal government ignoring the very issue they made sure caused former Ontario PC Leader John Tory to lose the 2007 election.

I also cross posted my article at Jack’s Newswatch and NewsWatchCanada posted the title, which I very much appreciate because, unlike most of the Toronto-based media and the TDSB administration, who are turning themselves into pretzels for politically correct reasons, the rest of us are not going to.   

Consider, for example, how TDSB Director, Chris Spence reacted when other faiths objected. Does he cancel the Muslim prayer program? No, he doesn’t. Rather, as mentioned in Davidson’s article, he attempts to shamefully latch on to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by saying that because Section 2 on Religious Freedoms are guaranteed in the Charter, those rights supersede the Ontario Education Act. 

Suggesting, it would seem, that those guarantees only supersede the Education Act when it involves religious accommodations for children and youth of the Muslim faith. De facto then, whether he realizes it or not, Spence is arguing in favour of faith-based funding because the TDSB has chosen to, effectively, subsidize Muslim faith practices within the school day. In addition, Spence doesn’t even deal with the gender discrimination issue. Should he not clarify, for example, how Section 2 of the Charter on Religious Freedoms would impact Equality Rights, one of which is gender equality, in Section 15 of the very same Charter?   

So, what are we hearing from our politicians? Well, as Blazing Cat Fur writes, Elizabeth Witmer, the Ontario PC’s education critic, essentially says they do not intend to respond to this specific incident.  As Fur says, what a cop-out!

And an Internet search does not indicate any public comments on the matter from the current McGuinty Liberal government, probably because of the volatility of the faith-based funding debate during the 2007 election campaign — volatility caused by the Liberals themselves. 

Interestingly, one of the few people to take a principled stand on this issue is Muslim. Tarek Fatah, founder of the Canadian Muslim Congress is quoted in the Davidson article as saying:

  • “How did the TDSB pick the worst form of gender separation and say this is Islam?” and
  • “The TDSB is guilty of importing a version of Islam that is from…Islamic fascists.”

And so, let’s hold all Ontario politicians and the TDSB’s Spence to account! Calling it a religious freedom when only one faith is involved is just nonsense. Ontario public schools either allow choice and accommodations for children of all religions or they don’t accommodate any, other than in a “World Religion” course. But, if they do, the TDSB needs to make sure the groups being given the accommodations are in compliance with the part of Section 15 of the Charter that guarantees gender equality.

Our publicly funded schools are co-educational, whether they are in the Catholic or secular systems. Period! If religious or cultural groups want to separate boys and girls within a single defined space, they can do that in their own places of worship or private schools, not on the public dime.

2 thoughts on “Update to Religious freedom vs gender equality at the TDSB

  1. WHY? Why would anyone allow this on school property? I like Tarek Fatah’s remarks.
    Out here in BC Christmas cannot be mentioned, a holiday tree replaces the Cristmas tree, the TDSB is barking mad getting into this.
    Lame stream Media is not saying too much, time to start firing some of these TDSB Dictators, stupid, stupid, criminally stupid.

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