Human Rights Tribunal Fines Alberta Private School for Preventing Students from Praying

by | June 28, 2015

I don’t know how I missed the April story about a private school in Alberta, Webber Academy, ordered to pay $26,000 in damages to two students who they prevented from praying in their school.

According to the parents of the two students, upon enrollment, they explicitly asked if it would be okay for their children to pray for five minutes and were told that this was acceptable. However, the school reversed the decision two weeks later, citing that the praying was obvious to others and it made them uncomfortable. The parents state that going to the Human Rights Tribunal was a last resort.

Neil Webber, the school’s president and founder, disagrees with the ruling and justifies Webber Academy’s decision because the school is non-denominational and free of religious influences.

Although I am both a secularist and an atheist who finds prayer tiresome when observed and oppressive when forced on me, I agree with the Human Rights Tribunal’s decision and the reason I agree with it is simple: the students were not forcing their religion on anyone else. Sure, it may have been disruptive but perhaps something could have been worked out to remedy that. The point is that this is not the same as saying the Lord’s Prayer, a religious activity academic institutions once inflicted on students en masse, giving them no choice but to comply. Instead, this is the private practice of students who have a right to their beliefs and a right to freedom of religion.

You can read more about the case and the ruling here.

3 thoughts on “Human Rights Tribunal Fines Alberta Private School for Preventing Students from Praying

  1. Indi

    I was nervous when I saw your headline, about where you were going with this. I’m so glad you went with reason rather than knee-jerk hostility toward anything that has even the whiff of religion.

    Once again it all comes down to confusion about what secularism is. Secularism applies to institutions, not people. This school wasn’t a public institution, but that doesn’t really matter in this case – they chose to be a secular school (whereas if they’d been a public school it shouldn’t be a choice), but that doesn’t mean that they can force “secularism” on the students. The same would be true of a private Catholic school – you couldn’t force students into Confession or prayer just because the *school*’s policy is Catholic. The students can be as “obvious” about their religion as they please, so long as they are not disruptive.

    And while I don’t know the law in Alberta, in Ontario at least reasonable accommodation is mandatory, and that’s a good thing. There is no sane reason why the school couldn’t give these kids a room to pray in when it’s minus-fucking-twenty outside, or raining or whatever. *Surely* there must be a room, or a portable, or *something* they can use. What rational reason could there be for refusing the request? If a non-denominational school lets a couple of Muslim kids use an empty classroom to pray in, that doesn’t magically turn it into a Muslim school – I mean come the fuck on! I’m a shameless and outspoken critic of religion, but being opposed to religion doesn’t mean treating religious people like animals – *less* than animals, in fact, because we even let some of our pets shit indoors.

    Your take on the story cheered me up immensely, which I needed sorely because I’m writing a rather bleak article.

  2. Diana MacPherson

    I’m glad my article cheered you up, Indi. I criticize religion all the time but I hate forcing people to think a certain way; I’d rather try to persuade them, not indoctrinate and bully them.

  3. Pingback: A Christian Response to Religious Freedom | Canadian Atheist

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