Is Valley Park Middle School Canada’s Ground Zero Mosque?

The Jewish Defence League of Canada, along with the Canadian Hindu Advocacy and the Christian Heritage Party, told a news conference they will protest the controversial prayer sessions next Monday.

from the July 18th, 2011 Canadian Press article Groups plan protest over Muslim prayers being allowed in Toronto school

As you know, I have expended a great deal of electronic ink covering the continuing controversy surrounding the Muslim movement as some have called it, regarding flashpoint crisises ranging from the building of the Ground Zero Mosque to fearful warnings of a global assimilation.

Conversely, I have lamented the seeming intolerance we have had towards our own religious convictions from the standpoint of Christianity in posts such as the aptly titled First prayer, then standing up to a bully and now . . . a kindergartner suspended for crying?! What is wrong with our schools!, and the 49th Parallel Forum broadcast 49th Parallel- Bah Humbug! What’s up with Happy Holidays?.

Regardless of which side of the freedom of religion debate that seems to be raging in society – especially here in North America, I have been critical of the intolerance demonstrated by those who seek to limit an individual’s right to worship according to their personal faith convictions.  In essence I have tried to provide a lens of informed understanding regarding the diversity within our increasingly globalized community, in the hope that somehow the silos of prejudice and ignorance would somehow dissolve into a mutual if not amiable co-existence.

The problem with taking this balanced approach to such a complex issue is that the equalizing tensions that seems to provide a moderating influence can itself quickly dissipate into an inflammatory wave of acrimony in which it appears that one side has somehow gained the upper hand in an emotionally charged situation.  The reference to The Canadian Press story is such an example.

According to reports, the Valley Park Middle School in Toronto, Canada have for the past three years provided a venue by way of the school’s cafeteria to accommodate a Muslim prayer service each Friday for approximately 300 students.  The school district’s logic is that the Muslim students were missing classes in order to attend prayers at a nearby Mosque, and that by providing this access during school hours, they are now able to attend said classes.

Talk about poking the proverbial alligators!

While there are many different avenues of discourse one can pursue with this revelation, including why it took three years for someone to finally take issue with the weekly prayer services in the first place, whether intended or not, the school district’s well intentioned overture is prejudicial.

Think about it for a moment, school prayer was abolished in the U.S. over a period of years starting in the 1960s (a move that was supported by the ACLU), based on the assertion that allowing prayer within the hallowed halls of our educational system violates the principle of separating church and state.  In Canada, it should be noted that the first crucial case in the debate surrounding school prayer took place in Ontario in 1988 with the Zylberberg v. Sudbury Board of Education (Director) decision.

What is interesting to note is that as imperceptibly has the Muslim prayer services over the past three years took hold in the Valley Park Middle School, the abolishment of Christian-centric prayer in our schools also occurred over an equally ponderous period of time.

Looking at the U.S. once again, there are what is often referred to as three defining court cases that ultimately led to the the present day separation of church and state . . . at least in terms of our indigenous Christian faith.  These seminal cases which include; The Regent School Prayer (Engel v. Vitale, 1962), School Prayer (Murray v. Curlett, 1963), and School Prayer and Bible Reading (Abington Township School District v. Schempp, 1963), became the slippery slope that is reflective of our religious indifference.  Indifference in that not a single Christian organization filed a brief in support of school prayer when the Supreme Court in an 8 to 1 ruling in 1971, established what became known as the Lemon Test.

U.S. Supreme Court

Based on the Lemon v. Kurtzman case the Lemon Test specifies that any practice sponsored within state run schools (or other public, state sponsored activities) must:

  1. Have a secular purpose;
  2. Must neither advance nor inhibit religion; and
  3. Must not result in an excessive entanglement between government and religion.

The questions that these decisions along with the apparent apathy of Christian organizations to defend our right to having our own religious freedom raise, is whether what is happening in Toronto today is part of an overt movement by Muslim interests to assimilate our nations into their faith or, a reflection of our own declining Christian values in our day-to-day lives.  Or to put it another way, if we has Christians were not interested in carving out our place in society including our schools to freely worship according to our individual beliefs, why should we take exception if another faith chooses to do so?

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