For the past few months, the issue of religious accommodation regarding Muslim prayers has been a contentious one. Members of the Peel District School Board have met to discuss the matter and fielded concerns from vocal (and sometimes disruptive) critics.
Today, Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffrey issued a statement outlining her support for religious accommodation in Brampton, Caledon and Mississauga schools.
“I am alarmed by the recent misinformation and hateful speech surrounding the accommodation of Muslim prayers at the Peel District School Board,” Jeffrey said in a statement. “Over the last two decades Muslim students, in schools across the Region of Peel, have been accommodated for Friday prayer. This is not something new.”
The debate over the board’s decision to allow Muslim students the option to use their own sermons during Friday prayers has been heated, with critics arguing that religion has no place in public schools at all.
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While people are divided on the issue, Jeffrey has been firm in her opinion that the school board isn’t doing anything unprecedented that unfairly favours Muslim students.
“The Ontario Human Rights Code mandates religious accommodation. Our city and region have a proud history of upholding religious accommodations at our public schools,” she says. “Whether it is protecting the right of religious dress, like a Sikh student’s kirpan and turban, or accommodating a vegetarian/kosher/halal religious dietary restriction at a school event, we proudly stand for our Charter rights protecting religious freedom.”
In her statement, Jeffrey noted that observant Muslim students require time to pray during the school day and that people must respect that–just as they respect other groups’ religious requirements.
“The only limit on religious accommodation is undue financial burden,” she says. “Letting Muslim students pray for 20 minutes in an empty space with the supervision of volunteer staff does not cause any financial hardship.”
On the subject of more hysterical opposition–such as proclamations that students may be secretly praying for the dissolution of modern Canadian society–Jeffrey says she’s concerned.
“I am troubled by the misinformation, fear mongering, and outright falsehoods being spread by some. Peel is one of the most diverse regions in Canada. We not only cherish diversity, we celebrate it. It is our strength, the very essence of our Region’s character. Our strong diversity is why families are choosing to move here, it is why we are one of the fastest growing cities in Canada, and it is why I love being the mayor of the great City of Brampton.”
On the subject of diversity, Jeffrey is correct. Canada’s ninth largest city is one of Canada’s most diverse, boasting a citizenry that speaks almost 100 different languages.
“Diversity works, and we are a more dynamic city because of it,” Jeffrey says. “I was elected by Bramptonians from all walks of life to represent all of my 600,000 residents. I strongly condemn any form of discrimination, any form of racism, and any form of hate. There is no place for it here, or anywhere else in Canada.”