Quebec issues directive banning prayers in public schools

Quebec’s education minister has formalized a promise to ban prayer rooms and other religious practices in the province’s public schools.

Bernard Drainville issued a directive late Wednesday saying schools must ensure that none of their spaces are used “in fact and in appearance, for the purposes of religious practices such as open prayers or other similar practices.”

“Schools are places or learning and not places of worship,” Drainville wrote on his Twitter account, where he published a copy of his order.

No requests for accommodation will be heard, the government added.

The directive came after Drainville said earlier this month that he had learned from at least two Montreal-area schools permitting students to gather for prayer. He said the concept of prayer rooms runs counter to Quebec’s policy of official secularism. The province’s secularism law, known as Bill 21, already prohibits many public servants, including teachers, from wearing religious symbols on the job.

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The directive notes that the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms recognizes the freedom of religion but also the fundamental importance of secularism.

It also notes that “according to the principle of freedom of conscience, a student has the right to be protected from all direct or indirect pressure aimed at exposing him or influencing him so that he conforms to a religious practice.”

Drainville has said that he can’t ban prayer altogether and that students who want to pray should do so discreetly and silently.

The directive applies to public schools, vocational schools and adult education centers, but not to private schools or Indigenous school boards.

It will be up to school service centers — which replaced school boards — to ensure “appropriate corrective measures” are taken in cases of non-compliance.

The ban has been denounced by Muslim groups, which have said they would keep a close eye on how it’s implemented to ensure rights aren’t violated.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 20, 2023.

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