First Nation smudging ceremony does not infringe on religious freedom

Richard Moon’s perspective in contrast to Ashley Csanady: Indigenous prayers in the classroom and all-Muslim suburbs are equally dangerous attacks on our secular society:

On first glance, the inclusion of the smudging ceremony in the school’s curriculum would seem to breach this prohibition on state support for religion. If it is objectionable and a breach of the Charter’s freedom of religion for a school to include the Lord’s Prayer as part of its opening exercises, then surely it must also breach the Charter when a school involves its students in a smudging ceremony. The equation of these practices, though, is too simple and fails to understand why the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in the public schools is objectionable and why the smudging ceremony has been included in the school’s curriculum.

It is important to remember that the Port Alberni school is not affirming or supporting the smudging ceremony as a spiritually true practice — as the correct way to worship the divine. The school’s purpose is to introduce students to some of the practices of the local indigenous community.

The courts have accepted that a school may teach students about different spiritual traditions. The parent’s objection, then, must be that the students are being exposed to the practices of only one spiritual tradition — that indigenous practices are being given some form of preference in the schools.

But there are good reasons for this apparent preference. The report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has helped Canadians to see more clearly that the dominant culture in Canada did not simply ignore the cultural/spiritual practices of the First Nations, but actively sought to suppress those practices through residential schools and other means. Exposing public school students to a few of these practices is a small start in the process of acknowledging the presence of First Nations and the injustices committed against them.

A parent who believes that it is immoral or wrongful for her children to participate in an indigenous spiritual ceremony should be able to request an exemption from participation. The parent, though, should not be able to prevent the school from introducing other students to the cultural and spiritual practices of the local indigenous community.

Source: First Nation smudging ceremony does not infringe on religious freedom | Vancouver Sun

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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