A diverse collection of interest groups is speaking out against the Toronto District School Board’s decision to accommodate Muslim students’ right to freedom of religion by allowing an imam to lead Friday prayers in a North York middle school cafeteria.
The Canadian Secular Alliance joined Thursday with two groups _ the Canadian Hindu Advocacy and the Jewish Defense League _ that regularly criticize Islam, as well as the outspokenly liberal Muslim Canadian Congress, in saying that the board is going too far in inviting a religious leader to lead services on school property.
“While students may self-organize into any kind of school club they wish, there is no place for an outside religious leader to use school infrastructure off limits to non-Muslims to engage in religious services,” Greg Oliver, the CSA’s president said in statement.
The at-school prayer services have been going on for about three years. Administrators at Valley Park Middle School, near Don Mills Road and Overlea Boulevard, had become concerned that some students were missing too much class time in order to attend prayer services at a nearby mosque on Islam’s holy day, Friday. The students had to cross a busy intersection in order to attend the services, and many were slow to return to class afterward.
An arrangement with a local imam that allowed the community to absorb the associated costs proved to be the best way to minimize disruptions to the classroom, according to TDSB officials.
Similar arrangements involving designated prayer spaces have been made for Muslim students at other schools throughout the province, but Valley Park appears to go a step further in having an imam lead the services.
Ron Banerjee, director of Canadian Hindu Advocacy, said in an interview Tuesday that Islamic groups are “imposing their view and trying to change the rules, regulations, norms and values to accommodate themselves, and in the long-term, to spread their ideology,” he said.
“Pretty soon, we’re going to have 50 different ethnicities and religions asking for different accommodations.”
The TDSB introduced a religious accommodation policy in 2000 in order to ensure it was in compliance with human rights legislation. It outlines ways to accommodate modesty requirements in gym class, and fasting and dietary requirements, among other things. It also includes limitations that state the board won’t compromise on certain issues, such as public safety or health, in making these accommodations, and that parents must make the request.