Mother Teresa Catholic School, the home to a Muslim prayer room.
LONDON, Ontario, September 21, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – In a move to make “all students feel welcome” a Catholic high school in Ontario is about to open an exclusive Islamic prayer room at the request of Muslim students. The room, located right next to the school’s Catholic chapel, will have a newly installed carpet, prayer mats, and speakers. One critic has slammed the move as a “compromise” and “dilution” of authentic Catholic education.
“On top of the new homosexual clubs in Catholic schools, this is one more nail in the coffin of Catholic education,” Suresh Dominic of Campaign Life Catholics told LifeSiteNews.com. “Separate schools are supposed to provide an authentically Catholic environment, but they are now becoming indistinguishable from the public secular schools.”
While administration at Mother Teresa Catholic secondary school says it allowed the prayer space to be created after a group of Muslim students lobbied for it last year, the move comes in obedience to Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Equity and Inclusive Education (EIE) policy which mandates this type of “religious accommodation” for all schools, whether public or Catholic.
A “Catholic Version” of the EIE policy, ratified by Ontario Separate school boards, requires Catholics schools to provide “accommodation for students’ and staffs’ religious beliefs and practices”. In light of this requirement, the Toronto Catholic District School Board has for example mandated that “board schools will make reasonable efforts to accommodate individuals’ requirement for daily prayer by providing a location within the building for students and staff to participate in prayer”.
Ontario Education Minister Laurel Broten applauded the Muslim prayer chapel, saying that “religious accommodation determinations are made by the local school board” and that their decisions should be supported.
Principal Ana Paula Fernandes told SunNews that the Muslim youths are “members of our school community” and that the school “want[s] to ensure that all our students feel welcome, that they feel that they belong”. There are an estimated 25 Muslim youths in the student population of 1,400.
Fernandes said that, to ensure that all students feel welcome, it was “very important” that the prayer room was “included in the main building, and not tucked away somewhere”.
But Dominic pointed out that providing other religions a place to pray inside Catholic school buildings, combined with other elements of the EIE policy such as the requirement for Gay Straight Alliances, will result in the identity of Catholic schools becoming more and more watered down.
“This not only sends a confusing message to students, but it dilutes what Catholic education is supposed to be about, namely to form children in a Catholic environment so that they can be Catholic,” Dominic told LifeSiteNews.
Dominic explained the potential for mixed messaging, “Allowing other religions to set up shop in Catholic schools also risks sending the message that perhaps Jesus is not really ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ as St. John tells us in the Gospel, but only one way amongst many”.
Dominic stressed that religious freedom in a civilized nation means for every religion to be able to have a place to pray and worship, but that a Catholic school building is a “place for Catholic prayer and worship, not a place for the prayer and worship of other religions”.
Some Catholic educators, such as Principal Fernandes, suggest that creating prayer spaces for other religions within Catholic school buildings will teach children about religious freedom and tolerance. But Dominic stressed that opening places of prayer to other religions will create a “potential legal problem” for Catholic schools.
“If Muslims are granted a prayer space, how will the Catholic school be able to deny similar accommodation to religions or spiritualities that are completely contrary to faith in God, such the modern day form of witchcraft known as Wicca?” he asked. “In this example, administrators could be accused of discrimination and face a human rights complaint if Wiccan students are denied prayer space while other religions are accommodated”.