Tempers flared last year when it came to light that Toronto’s Valley Park Middle School - in direct contravention of the Ontario Education Act, which bans religious services during school hours - is designating cafeteria space every Friday afternoon for traditional Islamic prayer for 300 to 400 students. Other religious groups - including Hindus and Muslims - protested that people of the Islamic faith were receiving preferential treatment.
Putting aside the argument of whether organized prayer belongs in school, what few news stories failed to mention was the fact that during these ritual prayer sessions, girls were forced to pray behind boys for the purposes of ‘modesty’ and menstruating girls - considered ‘unclean’ and thus banned from participating - sat upright at the back, ‘excused’ from prayer.
_In a July 27 article in Macleans, Emma Teitel wrote, “People are angry and I understand why: ... religious accommodation shouldn’t accommodate sexism, and tolerance should never tolerate intolerance.”
_Bravo Ms. Teitel. But what is the Toronto District School Board thinking? Not only is this a blatant invasion of privacy (‘Hello. My name is Tracey and I have my period’), since when did girls become second-class citizens in our schools?
_The TDSB argued that, “freedom of religion in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms supersedes the Education Act. As a public school board, we have a responsibility and an obligation to accommodate faith needs.”
_The needs of all faiths? Including those that segregate and discriminate against young women who may or may not be sporting a tampon?
_I once had a boss who told me that “Women belong barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.” Do we really want to go down that road again?...Our government is currently making a semi-big push in support of "religious freedom" in far-away lands. That's easy-peasy compared to tackling the really hard stuff: the hot potato of freedom right here at home. (It remains to be seen whether the Harperites have the stones to strike down state censorship as embodied in the odious Section 13.)
Talk about thinking globally but failing to act locally.