Stupid prayer poll

This is an awesomely badly worded poll — so awful I don’t even know how to vote.

Do you think Muslim prayers should be allowed in school?

Yes (61%)
No (39%)

For three years, hundreds of students have been praying in the cafeteria at Valley Park Middle School during their lunch hour. The school doesn’t run or pay for the service.

Reading that far, I would say yes, of course students should be allowed to pray. Doesn’t matter whether they’re Christian, Muslim, or Satanist — if they’re not being disruptive and just doing their own thing, let them do it.

But then there is this…

The service is operated by members of the Valley Park community

Huh? It’s a “service” that is “operated” by people in the community? That’s a whole different matter. If they’re bringing in priests of their cult and doing organized prayer sessions on the sufferance of the school administration, that’s too much — it would be disruptive, and it turns the school cafeteria into a church.

That’s why the poll sucks. This isn’t an issue about whether kids should be allowed to pray, it’s about whether schools should host religious services during school hours. And the answer there would be NO.

Except for the additional qualification that this is all in Canada, which doesn’t have the nominal separation of church and state that we do. Ethically, at least, the answer is still no — don’t use schools for religious indoctrination.


  1. says

    Very tricky indeed. Once an imam from the local mosque is involved, it becomes a lot less voluntary. I’m sure some of the kids would rather be hanging out with their friends during lunch than praying, but now their parents have a proxy to enforce compliance.

    On the other hand, before this accommodation, the parents were just pulling the kids out of school to go pray at the mosque, thus disrupting their learning time.

  2. says

    That’s easily fixed. Back when I was in high school, they had a problem with all the kids leaving en masse at lunchtime to go to the local fast food franchise…so the administration just put their foot down and prohibited leaving the campus (with an exception…they made it a senior privilege to go off-campus for lunch).

  3. says

    and it turns the school cafeteria into a church.


    Why aren’t they asking if magic men should be leading student prayers in school? Or less tendentious words to the same effect? Use the word “cleric,” at least, if you don’t want “imam” prejudicing the poll.

    When will we ever have a poll on how misleading a poll is?

    Glen Davidson

  4. peterh says

    Church – mosque – den of iniquity; a distinction without a difference. Polls in this genre are universally constructed, by accident or design, such that no clear-cut answer can be arrived at on either side. And there are often many sides but too few choices.

  5. mosesmodel says

    I forget the exact case, but the Amish are not forced to go to school beyond a certain grade level, because this would send them to Amish hell. The spiritual disciplines needed to get them into Amish heaven cannot be taught if the teenagers spend all day in school. SCOTUS ruled that fervent religious requirements like this must be accommodated by the school system.

    Most forms of Islam require the prayers five times a day at specific times. Given the precedent, they must be allowed to leave class and pray. Depending on tradition, sometimes these prayers must be led by Islamic clergy. Some Christians voice that this is a double standard. However most sects of Christianity do not have rigorous religious disciplines that are not already accommodated by the school system already. Despite Tebowing most American Christians do not even have to kneel in prayer.

    The way I generally put this is that the public school system cannot send you to hell.

  6. evilDoug says

    I believe Valley Park Middle School came up some time ago, when it was noted that girls took up their proper position at the back of the group, and menstruating girls were not allowed to participate. I’m guessing that the segregation of the girls was voluntary – voluntary under extreme pressure of tradition.
    Prayers be damned. The sexism is enough for me to support banning the practise.

  7. mosesmodel says

    Thank You internet. The case was Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972) which said that the Amish did not need attend school beyond the 8th grade. I remember this case, because a Christian man who beat his children tried to use it to justify his homeschooling. He was afraid teachers would discover bruises on his children. Fortunately, he loss.

  8. littlejohn says

    So that we don’t all cancel each others’ votes, I suggest we all vote “yes.” I understand the problem with the answer, but a no vote would simply bolster the popular bigotry against Islam among Christians, while a yes vote will have the advantage of confusing them. I’m voting “yes.”

  9. Rip Steakface says

    I agree with littlejohn, with a small addendum: all the actual poll says is “should Muslim prayers be allowed in school?” If that’s the question being asked, just give the sensible answer of “yes.” Unfortunately.

  10. says

    I ran in the provincial election for this electoral district this past October and this issue came up (education is a responsibility of the provincial government, and the incumbent, Kathleen Wynne, was former Education minister and has defended the prayers at Valley Park).

    Legally the public schools are required to accomodate students of different religions, so forbidding the kids to leave school to go to the mosque for prayers (if required by their religion) is not possible. (As Wynne pointed out, Christian kids in Ontario have always been allowed to have time off from school for all of their religious holidays.)

    I argued that any event held on school grounds during school hours must abide by school policy, including policy on gender equity.

  11. says

    I should add that my party (the Vegan Environmental Party) advocates the end of public funding for religious schools. Currently in Ontario the Catholic school boards are publicly funded, but no other religious schools receive public funding.

  12. Kichae says

    @mosesmodel #5, 7: That’s great and all, ‘cept, of course, that SCotUS rulings don’t apply in Canada. We’re not the 51st state, believe it or not.

  13. michaeld says

    I’m a canadian and I have to admit I don’t know quite where to stand on this issue.For those discussing scotus and the amish doesn’t really matter in this case cause again its in canada. Where there’s no formal separation of church and state and the Catholics get their own school board (love to change that).

    Back to the Muslims, they should be allowed to pray in the schools but I like many others am not terribly fond of the whole bring in the cleric to lead them aspect.I’d honestly much rather they did it on their own or with one of them leading the prayer. Ex a Muslim student group that meets at lunch and one of them leads the prayer etc.

    In my high school one of the classrooms was used for the prayer though I don’t recall much about it nor do I ever recall it being brought up as an issue.

    In the end for Canadians in general it comes down to trying to reasonably accommodate people. I’m not crazy about it but I think in the end I’d allow it.

  14. ischemgeek says

    Well, we don’t have a separation of church and state in Canada, but we do have a Constitutionally mandated (via the Charter of Rights and Freedoms) right to freedom of religon (which has been interpreted by our Supreme Court as including the freedom from unwanted religious pressure). If there’s any element of coersion or favoritism in this, students could challenge it as a human rights issue.

    However, if there is no coercive element and it keeps the kids (who were otherwise hauled out of school for about an hour and a half every day, IIRC) in school, it’s probably the lesser of several evils, I think. After all, if the end result of this is that they spend more time in school to learn about science and critical thinking and so on, I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

  15. Sastra says

    I am going to protest the wording of the poll by boycotting it. Yeah, take that, CityNews Toronto!

    This whole situation though looks like a real moral dilemma. Following the right principle has negative consequences; choosing the lesser of two evils ignores the right principle. Oh, if only I had a sacred holy book to consult to solve this neatly and easily so that neither I nor anyone else has to think about it so deeply!

  16. says

    Sure, they get to pray.
    Islam does not mandate every prayer be led by an imam or be at a mosque. They can pray on their own, they do not need to leave campus. It’s not like they need a leader to tell them about the new exciting prayer of the week.
    So no, the imam stays out of school, the students stay in school. It could be that easy, but religion poisons everything.

  17. Teshi says

    I’m not crazy about it either and I would, if I were a teacher in such an institution, do everything I could to counteract the societal biases that religion brought to the table in school.

    However, I do not think that having someone run services at lunchtime is any different, legally or ethically, than having a religious discussion group run by an outside person at lunchtime or having a music club at lunchtime run by an itinerant teacher.

    In light of that kind of view, and provided the prayers take place in a way that doesn’t disrupt other students (and I imagine they use the cafeteria after people eat simply because it provides a big enough space) it’s simply a prayer club that a lot of students enjoy going to.

    As someone who dislikes religion, I wouldn’t be pleased, but I think I’m okay with it.

  18. davidct says

    It is my understanding that as long as they are not school sponsored, prayers may be said in school. This should apply to all superstitions equally. I am not sure that this is what the pollsters intended to ask about.

  19. says

    As a Canadian who attended a Catholic high school, I was lucky to be surrounded by mostly good people. While Mass attendance was mandatory, only one of my teachers cared that I skipped most of them, and even that only resulted in a short argument.

    However, had I asked for religious reasons not to attend, I would have simply gone to the cafeteria where students of other faiths could sit/do their own thing. Never saw any Muslims, but there were Jewish and Hindu students occasionally.

    My hometown was very small, and there were only two high schools. The Public school had more than twice the student population, and the Catholic school was better staffed/equipped.

  20. funkydebunker says

    When I was a child (centuries ago!) we had to start every day in homeroom by reciting the lord’s prayer. I remember being furious about that even then. As a budding atheist I was incensed at the injustice of being commanded to pray. There was one Jewish girl in my class who had to go stand outside the room every morning while we recited the prayer. I can only imagine how that child felt about being singled out like that every day. This was in Ontario, where we still have a seperate school system for Catholics, paid for by the government. I was and still am pissed about that. My concern is that accomodating religious observance in the schools begins by being optional, and ends up becoming mandatory. While we can say nothing about private religious schooling, we can at least have some say in where our tax dollars are spent. Religeon should be a private matter, and has absolutely no place in our schools.

  21. says

    We’re not the 51st state, believe it or not.

    It is sometimes startling to see how far the specific notions of the U.S. constitution have spread. For example, I was watching an episode of the BBC comedy “As Time Goes By.” Jean (Judi Dench) asks Lionel (Geoffrey Palmer) a question that he doesn’t want to answer. He glibly replies, “I’ll take the fifth on that.”

    It pleases me to think that some vestiges of the Bill of Rights will survive in the cultural heritage of the world at large even as our war-against-terror security state works diligently to abolish it in the U.S.

  22. janiceintoronto says

    mosesmodel says:
    31 December 2011 at 10:43 am

    @Kichae Wait until the 2012 Apocalypse :) Canucks become Yankees all.

    Speaking as a Canadian, just shoot me now.

  23. robro says

    damn, religion makes everything complicated. let’s just get rid of it instead of trying to accommodate it. much simpler.

  24. Blondin says

    One of the comments in that article includes this bit:

    Just a quick note..there aren’t 300 muslim students in that school,those other muslims are from surrounding schools also.Ity just happens that one school is close enough to the rest.

    If there is any truth to that then the argument about not wanting kids to leave the school are pretty much negated. All they’ve done is move the mosque into one of the schools.

    I have my doubts about whether it’s true, though.

  25. matthewmcleod says

    Canada may not have been founded secular, but has made strides to be identified as such today (despite still having ‘Dei Gratia Regina’ on our money :S ). ‘The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ has trumped school endorsed/mandatory prayer (e.g. section 167 of the Public Schools Act 1944 – Mandatory prayer) in cases like “Zylberberg v. Sudbury Board of Education” and “Russow v. British Columbia”. In a nutshell, it’s just as rights-smooshing here (Canada) as it is in the States. So ethically, no and legal, no.

  26. matthewmcleod says

    funkydebunker, I remember staring with the sinister-sounding “lord’s prayer” every morning too. For me, never really having heard of god sufficient grounds not to pray to him, very weird introduction to religion.

  27. thewhollynone says

    If they accommodate the Catholics, it’s only fair that they accommodate the Muslims, and the Native Americans. My understanding is that the Canadians made a compromise with the Catholics in order to form and maintain a country, just as the US founders made a compromise with the slave-holders in order to form a country. As the history of a nation develops, sometimes these compromises get adjusted, and maybe the Canadians will do that without tearing their country apart. I do hope so because if it gets considerably warmer up there, I will consider moving back to the land of my ancestors, at least for the summers.

    Regarding this particular problem, it’s a wonder to me that the Muslims don’t demand their own school, supported by public funds, just like the Catholics have.

  28. DLC says

    Hopefully, our friends to the North will come to rationality here and push themselves away from the table of religiosity.
    The fare is poor and not really fitting.

  29. says


    My understanding is that the Canadians made a compromise with the Catholics in order to form and maintain a country, just as the US founders made a compromise with the slave-holders in order to form a country.

    Umm. No, not quite. In order to form and maintain the country, the minority rights of the Francophone Catholics were guaranteed (as were the rights of Protestant Anglophones where they were in the minority). Instead of providing funding only to English Protestant schools, thereby leading to assimilation of French culture, the government funded both (actually all four) school systems given a minimum population. This progressive approach* should not be compared to slavery, thank you very much.

    As the history of a nation develops, sometimes these compromises get adjusted, and maybe the Canadians will do that without tearing their country apart.

    In the province for which this policy was originally largely devised, they got rid of the Church’s influence and now boast a purely secular school system. The same goes for most of the other provinces & territories. Alberta and Ontario have yet to completely secularise and get rid of the separate school system. Here in Ontario, there’s about 80% support for dropping funding for the Catholic schools, but still, no politician (of the mainstream parties) will touch it. Yet.

    Regarding this particular problem, it’s a wonder to me that the Muslims don’t demand their own school, supported by public funds, just like the Catholics have.

    The problem is, most parents now want a single secular public school (which is what the former Protestant system has now largely become, except for the “single” part). They don’t want public money going to support religion. One of the Progressive Conservative leaders proposed just this solution (i.e. opening up funding for other faith-based schools) and his election campaign derailed and burned in a spectacular fiery crash.

    *If only they had been enlightened enough to do the same for the aboriginal peoples, we wouldn’t have had more than a century’s worth of residential school horror stories of cultural genocide.

  30. osmosis says

    Being a Canadian atheist kinda sucks. Can’t sing the national anthem without paying lip-service to god; can’t find a legal leg to stand on if you want to challenge anything; can’t figure out what honoring “the gory of god” in the charter means…

  31. says

    @osmosis, I remember when the “God keep our land glorious and free” line was added, think it was in the 80s, with no debate or explanation. I still sing the older lyric, “O Canada, glorious and free”.

  32. Teshi says

    As national anthems go, osmosis, the God mention is quite minor. I’d rather have God mentioned once and the rest of the anthem be relatively progressive than some of the other more martial anthems out there.

    And while legally there is less cause to complain, societally, Canada has done a much better job of being secularly inclusive rather than exclusive. God is there, but often diluted to homeopathic levels; supernatural in name only.

    In fact, being atheist in Canada is not at all bad. Very little to no religion in taught in secular schools outside history, religions are often extremely liberal, young people are always falling off their rule-bound religious wagon to a less conservative way of being, other people are becoming atheist or “non-religious”. I have numerous friends who believed something quite fervently when younger and because of their exposure to normal, liberal, secular attitudes may still attend (a different) chuch but are fine with their gay friends getting married.

  33. Rich Woods says

    @osmosis #33:

    Being a Canadian atheist kinda sucks. Can’t sing the national anthem without paying lip-service to god

    Try being a British atheist republican:

    *** save our gracious *****,
    Long live our noble *****,
    *** save the *****!
    Send her victorious,
    Happy and glorious,
    Long to ***** over us;
    *** save the *****!

    I’ve long since reached the point where I just play the Sex Pistols / Motorhead version in my head instead.

  34. says

    I’m not too troubled about the “God keep our land” or “Dei gratia Regina” on the money or “God save the Queen” etc. I have the distinct impression that we’re all just pretending to believe in the existence of the god of our Victorian forbears, or perhaps the protective Genius of the place. A mythological figure of speech and not much more serious than that. It’s like singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” to get excited about Christmas or lighting the Olympic flame by using the divine fire of the sun.

  35. osmosis says

    @Ibis3: the little slogans only trouble me on account of the times when one is forced, directly or indirectly, to recite them.

    Are not school children forced to sing the anthem? Does the anthem not play at the start of sporting events, and do you not feel like a shmuck if you go wih your conscience and decline to stand and proudly proclaim respect for this imaginary deity, being the only sitting person in a standing room?

    All these little things build up to a prevailing sense that god is a well-established and unquestioned part of Canada, and that I can’t abide.

    OK, perhaps it’s only superficial – in reality, I am not constantly assaulted by religious dingbats whenever I leave the house. But then the questions becomes, why have it in the first place.

  36. marina says

    I find it a strange coincidence that just as Harper’s Office of Religious Freedom is getting established, our newly re-elected government here in Saskatchewan is proposing to dole out funding to private religious schools at the rate of 50% per student.

    Our public schools are closing due to lack of tax-payer funding, and yet somehow there is money to accommodate the wishes of the faith community.

    Example – a rural public school in Sask. was deemed financially nonviable to continue operating, and so it was closed, forcing parents to bus their children to a distant school. The Catholics, however, were somehow able to resurrect the school and reopen it as Catholic, thus recruiting those same students to attend their old school, albeit now under Catholic control. The case is still (after almost 10 years) before the courts.

  37. Thomathy, now gayer and atheister says

    Well, this story took ages to go around. I recall reading about this first months and months ago.

    The Globe and Mail had not less than three stories about it.

    I argued back then, and maintain my position, that the children can pray all they like, and can even be accommodated for their silly rituals.

    This went out of hand when the parent’s essentially turned the school cafeteria into a Mosque. It’s disruptive, undoubtedly and certainly unethical. It’s also entirely legal, as it currently stands.

    It’s been noted by myself and others that there are other significant problems with this school sponsored (let’s not forget that they’re using the facilities of a public school for free) prayer, not the least of which is that it has the potential to create an atmosphere of exclusion and may incite peer pressure. That the majority of the student population at the school is Muslim should be of no importance, but those students who attend these prayers are getting special treatment and may bully or exclude students that don’t. There is also the absolutely heinous fact that they exclude girls who are menstruating (how they know, I couldn’t tell you) and girls are segregated from the boys.

    The whole thing is a complete disgrace and an utter failure of both policy and legislation.