Ashley Csanady: Indigenous prayers in the classroom and all-Muslim suburbs are equally dangerous attacks on our secular society

Good column by Csanady although I do think there is a place, in a secular system, for comparative religion courses to help students understand the diversity of cultures and beliefs (as in Quebec):

Teaching kids about smudging ceremonies, and giving them the chance to participate in one, is a fine idea. As a fence-sitting agnostic, I have and it was great and calming and I really appreciated the openness of the First Nations community that offered it. But I also have friends who grew up in much more dogmatic households than mine, who would have broken into tears at being asked — nay forced — to do something against their religion. I considered the ceremony more spiritual than religious, but not everyone feels this way, and to suggest it’s not religious is actually an insult to its indigenous culture.

 The most infuriating thing about this debate in B.C. isn’t the details of the challenge itself, however, but the maddening knee-jerk left-wing reaction. The argument is less about religious freedom and secularism, but about a mother supposedly trying to “ban indigenous ceremonies in schools,” as a Guardian headline screamed.

Just as kids shouldn’t be required to all sing religious Christmas carols, nor should they be forced to recite another religions prayer or be anointed under its practices.

The mother isn’t trying to ban the ceremonies. Again, the issue is choice. Creating a prayer room for Muslim students, or ensuring Jewish students can miss class on Yom Kippur, or letting Hindu kids bring in treats on Diwali, are reasonable measures. But just as kids shouldn’t be required to sing religious Christmas carols, nor should they be forced to recite another religion’s prayer or be anointed under its practices. A multicultural society means freedom of religion and balancing competing rights.

Which brings us to the other troubling story in the news this week: a proposal to build a Muslim-based community in Quebec.

The organizer, Nabil Warda, has said his intent was to give Muslim families a chance at homeownership without paying interest, something that’s forbidden under certain interpretations of the Quran. And he has admitted maybe he should have called it “humanistic” instead of “Muslim,” to avoid the backlash.

Given there are many Orthodox Jewish communities in the U.S. and other predominantly Muslim suburbs in Ontario and Alberta, this should end the debate. Cultural communities have always taken space for their religion and people. Ethnic, religious and cultural communities that evolve over time are part of a diverse country.

What makes the Muslim community proposal offensive is the strictures that would be in place. As my colleague Graeme Hamilton notes, Warda has been explicit that Muslim cultural norms would be imposed, even in the public spaces in the community: “You don’t drive drunk on the street. If you want to drink alcohol, you drink it in your house,” Warda said.

“Women could choose whether to wear the headscarf but they could not walk around in a halter-top and shorts,” Hamilton reports.

There are already public intoxication and anti-drunk driving laws in Canada. And last time I checked, indecency under the criminal code only requires the teensiest bikini to pass muster. Since when does “humanism” not include women?

Imagine if this were an orthodox Christian community, like the ones in B.C. and Utah where women are forced to cover up and daughters are traded like chattel. For some reason, I think there’d be more outrage from the left. But the second it’s a Muslim community, it’s immune to criticism from the far-left, lest a rational secular argument be deemed Islamophobic.

Women in Canada should be able to wear whatever they want in public. I support a woman wearing a burqa on a public beach just as much as I do a bikini. If a temple or a church requires them to cover up or undress upon entry, that’s their right. But it’s also women’s right not to have religious requirements imposed on them in public spaces — including the municipal roads and sidewalks in a proposed suburb.

So too do children have a right to be free from religion during their public education. A religion is a religion is a religion. It doesn’t matter if it’s indigenous or Abrahamic in origin— it has no place in the public sphere or in the public classroom.

Source: Ashley Csanady: Indigenous prayers in the classroom and all-Muslim suburbs are equally dangerous attacks on our secular society | National Post

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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