Protect children from religious coercion
Dear Friend of Justice,
Imagine that your children or grandchildren were forced to participate in a religious ceremony at school, without your knowledge or consent.
That’s what happened to Candice Servatius, who was shocked to learn that her two children had been subjected to an aboriginal “smudging” ceremony at their elementary school. Her daughter was told it would be “rude” not to submit to smoke being waved over her to “cleanse” her “spirit.”
The school explained in a letter to parents that “everything has a spirit and energy” and “bad energy” must be “cleansed” from the furniture, classroom and children by fanning smoke from Sage over “the body and spirit” of each child.
Agree or disagree with these beliefs as you wish, but there is no denying that these aboriginal spiritual teachings are as “religious” as any that might be found in the Bible or Koran.
John Howitt Elementary School in Port Alberni, BC, eventually apologized to Mrs. Servatius for failing to notify her of this religious ritual ahead of time. But the School District insists it will continue with these religious rituals in the classroom.
Indeed, several months after the September “smudging,” the school held an assembly at which an aboriginal prayer was said.
On a side note, could you imagine the uproar if children had been required to recite the Lord’s Prayer in class, or at a school assembly?
The School District claims that smudging and aboriginal prayer are “cultural” practices. This is true, but misses the point.
There is a world of difference between teaching children about Islam, and requiring children to kneel on prayer rugs in the direction of Mecca and say a prayer to Allah.
In similar fashion, students can benefit from learning about aboriginal religious beliefs without being coerced to participate in religious rituals, prayers and ceremonies.
With the adoption of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, courts have interpreted a Charter right to be “free from” religion. That means not coercing children or adults to participate in any religious prayer, ritual, ceremony or practice.
Whether the aboriginal religious practices are also “cultural” is irrelevant.
In Mouvement laique quebecois v. City of Saguenay, the Supreme Court ruled that “the state must neither encourage nor discourage any form of religious conviction whatsoever. If the state adheres to a form of religious expression under the guise of cultural or historical reality or heritage, it breaches its duty of neutrality.”
Thirty years ago, the progressive left insisted that public schools must be secular, and launched a crusade against all expression, prayer and practice of religion in our public schools. They rejected the compromise solution of exempting students who disagreed with, or objected to, the religious practice.
So what’s going on here?
How can it be wrong to force students in a secular public school to participate in the practices of some religions, yet perfectly fine to compel participation in others?
The answer has to do with the progressive left worldview, held by many teachers and administrators in our public schools, not to mention the teachers’ unions. This worldview is based on group identity.
Socialists and Communists divided the world into property-owning bourgeoisie (“oppressors”) and labouring property-less proletariat (“victims”).
With Communism having been discredited after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, group identity is now defined by social criteria, such as race, religions, gender identity, and sexual orientation.
As with the Communist ideology, today there are still “victim” groups and “oppressor” groups when humanity is divided along racial, sexual, religious and gender identity lines.
Today, “social justice” means using the coercive power of the state to bring “equality” to victim groups. This “equality” does not mean equal treatment or equal opportunity for individuals. Instead, “equality” means trampling on individual rights by favouring so-called victim groups at the expense of so-called oppressor groups.
Modern progressives define Christians as an “oppressor” group, and aboriginals as a “victim” group.
This twisted view of “equality” concludes that the practice of Christianity in schools should be forbidden, yet students should be compelled to participate in aboriginal religious practices. It punishes one group and favours another—thereby making these groups less “unequal” in the progressive worldview.
But treating individuals or groups unequally (even if in the name of “equality”) fundamentally undermines the rule of law. It is arbitrary use of power, completely contrary to our free society.
What’s happening at John Howitt Elementary School in Port Alberni, BC, is not an isolated case. And if we want to stop the rule of law from being undermined, we have to challenge abuses of power like these.
That is why the Justice Centre is representing Candice Servatius in her court action against John Howitt Elementary School.
Our fight to defend the free society, in this court action and many others, continues only through the generous support of Canadians like you, who care about protecting the dignity and freedom of each individual.
We’ve show that, when given the tools, we can get the job done.
Here’s a partial list of our accomplishments. In 2016 the Justice Centre:
- secured a victory for free expression against the Brandon University Student Union, which had banned a student pro-life club from campus;
- helped secure victories for the Charter freedoms of Trinity Western University in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, BC Supreme Court, Nova Scotia Court of Appeal, and BC Court of Appeal;
- secured a victory for free expression for Mary Stanko against the St. Catherines Library Board, which had censored her newsletter for referring to the “supremacy of God” in the preamble to the Charter;
- published the 2016 Campus Freedom Index, grading the policies and practices of 60 Canadian universities in regard to free expression;
- secured a victory for Collette Schouten against the City of Calgary when it attempted to censor a peaceful political display in a city park;
- sued the student union at Ryerson University for banning the Men’s Issues Awareness Society student club from campus;
- advocated for the conscience rights of medical professionals before a Parliamentary Committee, regarding “Medical Assistance in Dying” (assisted suicide) legislation; and
- advocated for the religious freedom of Kevin Kisilowsky, stripped of his Marriage Commissioner’s license by the Manitoba government because of his commitment to traditional marriage.
None of these actions would have been possible, if not for the support and generosity of Canadians like you.
You make what we do possible.
Friend, will you help us win the legal fight for Candice Servatius and her kids?
Please support our court application with a tax-deductible donation today. You can donate securely at www.jccf.ca, or mail a cheque to the address here below.
John Carpay, B.A., LL.B.
Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms
#253, 7620 Elbow Drive SW • Calgary, AB • T2V 1K2
Support the Justice Centre – Click Here!