From time to time, the JFCY blog will host guest youth bloggers who will write on a legal topic relevant to youth. This time, please welcome Jasmine Godrey, a grade 12 student. Her blog piece is on religion in schools. JFCY has provided some additional legal information at the end of the blog piece.
Arjan put his scissors down and looked at the bearded, rosy-cheeked chubby man he had just cut out. From making cards to baking treats, Arjan had been prepared to participate in Christmas activities since Grade 1. But this year it was not Christmas alone that his Grade 5 class would be celebrating. Ms. Bartlett had explained to the class that in an effort to expose students to a variety of religions, Samuel’s mother would be visiting tomorrow to teach the class how to cook latkes for Hannukah.
Arjan was shocked when he returned from recess and Ms. Bartlett passed around a sheet of paper containing the lyrics of Silent Night. This was followed by Ms. Bartlett leading the class in an Advent prayer. Arjan had never felt comfortable singing the songs of another religion and certainly could not bring himself to pray in the Christian faith. He told Ms. Bartlett that he felt sick and then went to the office to call his Mom to pick him up.
The next day Arjan’s mom had a meeting with Ms. Bartlett to express her concern over her son being made to participate in Christian religious practices. Ms. Bartlett was offended; she had made an effort to expose the kids to other faiths and didn’t see the big deal with the songs and prayers especially because most of the kids seemed to be having a great time. Arjan’s mom explained that their family are Sikh and do not participate in activities of another religion.
What are Arjan’s rights?
About the law:
The issue in this scenario is about religion in schools and the rights of students to engage or opt out of religious instruction.
The Education Act R.S.O 1990 allows certain schools to give religious instruction granting parents the option to send their children to a particular school of a particular faith. However, the above situation concerns a student who is attending a secular (non-religious) public school.
Secular schools are allowed to provide information on different religious faiths. Schools are not allowed to encourage belief in one faith over another.
Furthermore, the Education Act R.S.O 1990 states that no pupil shall be required to read or study from a religious book or join in any religious exercises. A student’s parent or guardian may object to such religious instruction where the student is a child. Where the student is an adult, the student may object him or herself.
Under the Human Rights Code R.S.O 1990, every person has the right to equal treatment without discrimination on many grounds, including religious belief.
Schools and teachers should not embarrass or otherwise treat students in a negative way if they refuse to participate in any religious activities.