In Saskatchewan, An Atheist High School Student Tries to Remove Prayer from His Public School’s Graduation

Seriously?! Another post about prayer in Saskatchewan?!

At Three Lakes School, the 17 seniors were given the option of voting for what happened before their graduation banquet:

1) Prayer
2) Grace
3) Neither

About a third of the students voted for option 3 — which may not be enough to be the leading option — but now, one of the students is leading the charge to get rid of the first two options altogether. He’s had partial success:

“It was really biased, it had two options for and one against,” [senior Jacob] Nantau said.

The students discussed the matter again Friday and agreed to the compromise of non-religious thanks.

One student will draft the comments for approval by the rest of the class.

Nantau is satisfied for this year, but he wants the Horizon school board to establish a policy for future dinners.

If only we could leave it at that, I’d call it a happy ending.

But take a look at the shit he’s had to go through for voicing his opposition:

Nantau has been insulted, had religious scriptures left in his locker and his vehicle has been vandalized “multiple times” since he began pushing for omission of the prayer, he said.

His car window was smashed and lug nuts were removed from his tire and left on the ground.

“I won’t point fingers but it’s suspicious, given the circumstances,” he said.

That last line may be the most stereotypically Canadian thing I’ve ever heard… politeness despite the fucked up nature of the situation.

Jacob, by the way, claims to be the only atheist in his class, which may be part of the reason he’s been targeted by the vandals:

I know Canada doesn’t have separation of church and state like America does, but that doesn’t mean it makes any more sense to say a Christian prayer at a public school graduation ceremony. Focus on education, not the blatant ignorance of it. Give credit to the students who worked hard for this day, not to a god who had nothing to do with it.

Jacob deserves a lot of credit for leading the charge against the prayer and remaining an upright citizen despite the attacks against him, not blaming Christians for what happened without further evidence. And kudos to the (presumably religious) students who voted against saying prayer/grace at the banquet — no matter what your background is, there’s no reason to make those religious traditions part of a public school graduation.

Jacob gave an interview on The Richard Brown Show yesterday and explained the whole situation in much more detail. (You should listen to it for no other reason than to hear Jacob say the word “against.” Aww, Canadians.) He talks about the pushback around the 4:15 mark.

(Thanks to Carlin for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://twitter.com/TychaBrahe TychaBrahe

    You know, there are such things as non-prayer expressions of thanks.  A student could ask people to take a moment to be grateful.  They could list the things that they should be grateful for: the teachers who committed their time to teaching them, the parents who raised them, the friends who supported them.  You can be thankful without specifying to whom those thanks should be given.

    And then those people who are realists can actually be grateful to the people who did those things, and the others can thank whatever deity they think is involved.

  • http://mysecretatheistblog.blogspot.com/ Godless Poutine

    I lived in Saskatchewan for around 7 years.  Let’s just say it’s one of the “Fly Over Provinces”.  I don’t remember anything like this and I attended high school there in the 90s.  It’s possible it’s getting *worse* with an influx of evangelicals or something.

    Saskatchewan was also recently in the news when the local Catholic diocese was considering requesting an exorcism for a mentally unstable man.  The CFI was trying to ban exorcisms.  I write about it on my blog.

    • MegaZeusThor

      I can understand calling it a Fly Over Province. I think it’s unfair though. Economically, Saskatchewan is doing better than most right now. Last time I was there I saw too many churches, but some are shutting down. The province is full of stubborn people who may hold on European traditions — they just don’t realize that a lot of the places their ancestors came from have already moved on.

      What is good, once you’re out of high school, it’s even easier to ignore religion, even their. I’m proud of Jake — I doubt I would have cared to say anything. He’s helping to show that not “your normal” is not everyone’s normal.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cburschka Christoph Burschka

    - Tomato
    - Tomahto
    - Neither

  • MegaZeusThor

    The Charter of Rights and Freedoms including this in the preamble:  ”Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law” is very annoying. (It goes on to say:  Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: (a) freedom of conscience and religion).

    Ask a politician to take out the preamble and they’ll say it meaningless, but we heard the lady in the interview use it as a shield. It’s exactly why evangelicals used political pressure to have it there in the first place. (It was, basically kept from earlier versions — although other stuff was cut.)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preamble_to_the_Canadian_Charter_of_Rights_and_Freedoms

    • Arclight

       One of my law profs was involved in drafting the Charter. She said that some guy just decided it should be included, and no one wanted to speak against it for fear of being branded “disrespectful” of religion. If that isn’t systemic cultural bias, I don’t know what is.

      • MegaZeusThor

        It’s really too bad it’s there. Not because it affects my day to day life really, but because it is contradictory.

        Computers aren’t the only things with legacy issues.

  • Kevin S.

    Actually, the presence of two religious options helps the secularists, as it splits the vote of the religionists. If, say, grace was dropped, there might be some who prefer nothing to a full-blown prayer (grace, in my experience, is a much more toned down affair), but I’m guessing the majority would throw in behind prayer. With three options, neither at least had a shot at plurality (presuming the school wasn’t wise enough to use IRV or ranked prefernces).

    • Gib

      Exactly what I thought. I’d be recommending that they add about another 10 variations of religious observance to the ballot personally….

  • stojadinovicp

    Uhm, isn’t it good for us to have more than one religious option to vote on? i mean, it splits the religious and reduces their count?
    (I’m  intentionally ignoring the fact that there should not be a vote in the first place since religion has no place there)

    • Danny

      That’s exactly what I was thinking. It would be like having 2 republican nominees for president to vote for, and one democrat. It would split the vote for republicans.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tr-Dev/100003542966660 Tr Dev

    I sent him a message of support.  Love to see kids standing up for their rights as humans!  As to the idea that it helps that they split two religious options, I disagree.  ”Prayer” and “grace” are the same thing.  You close your eyes and talk to the Invisible Sky Daddy.  The subject of the “conversation” doesn’t matter.  The question, essentially, is “Do you want to pray before school starts, before lunch, or not at all?”  Two-thirds of the options lead to prayer of some kind.

  • dorothy30

    that female interviewer was really pushing the envelope for  the religious viewpoint!

  • http://twitter.com/ErnestValdemar Ernest Valdemar

    I undestand that next year, in addition to prayer and grace, they’ll be offering the students their choice of an invocation, a benediction, a blessing, a responsory, a hymn, or a homily.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adam-Patrick/100000027906887 Adam Patrick

    Ah, yes, that Christian love I hear so much about. Every time someone tells me that theism has a monopoly on morality(either explicitly or implied), I just point to stuff like this. 

    Of course, they aren’t “true” Christians…

  • CanadianNihilist

    yeah, Saskatchewan and Alberta are a little tricky to deal with when it comes to their religious”rights”.

  • Icaarus

    Hermet, There is no freedom of/from religion protection in the public education systems of either Alberta or Saskatchewan due to a couple of quirks with the Charter, the ‘new’ Constitution, and a grandfathering. They are well within their legal right to have generic prayers or community selected religious leaning views. Ugly but true

  • Neverknowndragon

    I came from a really small school and pretty much conservative Christian students. Yet they let the churches handle all the prayer and religious stuff.

  • Arclight

    Hi. Canadian law student, here. We may not have separation of church and state, but we do have constitutional guarantees preventing religious discrimination. This is probably a Charter issue. 

    • Icaarus

      An alberta law student and I were talking a while back. Apparently there are some charter exemptions for the education systems of AB and SK that let them get away with murder. One of the implications is the parental permission letter for teaching anything to do with sex, religion, etc. In 2009/2010 there was a revisit to the Alberta laws that in and of itself was ineffective, the revisit started out with mostly concerning itself with changing the coverage of curricula by home schooling. Even if the exemptions were not in effect, the event was run by the local pta, and therefore not an official government event, so it is excluded from protection. While I wish this could qualify as a charter issue, it isn’t. 

      I found this artical which has links and references to some of the supporting convolution of the issue. I’m not happy with the slant, but it is a good start for your reference. 
      http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0OJX/is_3_30/ai_n25121741/Saskatchewan and religion is just plain messed up. What is surprising is the outcome. Because 1/3 of the students said neither, the PTA will forgo a prayer at the start of the dinner, this year.

  • Miko

    From a purely strategic point of view, the two-to-one option split is just going to help the secular side in this issue, as all of the secularists would vote “none” while the theist vote would be divided between “prayer” and “grace.”

  • brianmacker

    “It was really biased, it had two options for and one against,” [senior Jacob] Nantau said.

    Biased for the last option because it split the vote for the other two? I think he got it reversed.

  • Nolamama10

    Sorry, but as a Canadian who has lived in the States for 6 years, I have to point out that Canadians ive lived amongst have live the separation of church and state more effectively and completely than either the Californians or the louisianans that ive lived amongst even though it does not technically have separation. This is clearly a very sad exception. I’m glad to see the good fight bein fought. Well done!

    • AxeGrrl

      Sorry, but as a Canadian who has lived in the States for 6 years, I have to point out that Canadians ive lived amongst have live the separation of church and state more effectively and completely than either the Californians or the louisianans that ive lived amongst even though it does not technically have separation.

      And that is the fascinating part :)     Anyone have any well-developed ideas on why this is?   why the country that has well-entrenched (legally)separation of church and state seems to have more ‘issues’ with people trying to cross the line than a country that doesn’t have it?

  • JeffreyP

    What was wrong with the way he said “against”? 


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