Alberta School Now Prayer-Free… but for How Long?

In a controversial and not very popular decision, Christian prayer has been kicked out of a public school.

Students at Dr. Hamman School in Taber, Alberta, are no longer expected to recite the Lord’s Prayer along with the school’s P.A. system as part of the daily opening exercises. Dr. Hamman School was the last remaining public school in Taber where prayer was still part of the morning routine.

The prayer was challenged by Melanie Bell, whose two sons attend Dr. Hamman School and had come home in tears more than once when school officials punished them for failing to participate in the class prayer, which the children had not learned to recite at home.

Bell says she tried to find alternative solutions for her children, but no other local schools had room to allow them to transfer, and she argued that her sons were very likely to become targets for bullying if they left class during the prayers. She further believed that having to listen to school-sanctioned prayer, even as non-participants, was a violation of the children’s right to religious freedom.

Her family comes from a Christian background, but she does not believe her children should be forced to pray, and she was troubled by the absence of all other belief systems from the school’s prayer routine, which gave the appearance of discrimination and official favoritism.

Said Bell:

I’m not for or against [school prayer]. I’m saying if you are going to do it, then diversify. If you are going to say one, then devote thirty minutes to every religion found at the school. We teach diversity and acceptance as parents, as a school, and as a community. There is no diversity and acceptance of other religions with the Lord’s Prayer.

While Bell said she has received some support for her petition, she also described some backlash and mentioned that others who agree with the removal of prayer from Dr. Hamman School fear reprisals from prayer-supporting parents. Support for school prayer in Taber and in the province at large — one of Canada’s most conservative — appears to be growing. An (admittedly unscientific) poll on the Lethbridge Herald website yesterday showed 75% of respondents opposing the decision to purge the Lord’s Prayer from the school environment.

One parent whose children attend Dr. Hamman School cited the desire of the majority of parents to incorporate some Christian content into the school environment as a reason why the decision should not stand:

We want to get at least an opportunity to vote, because it was just one person who made the request. We aren’t mad, but we want to have the right to say what we want to say. I just don’t think it’s right for one person to make a decision that affects everyone else… [The public school system] means we have a division that supports what parents want, regardless of whether it has to do with God or not.

The law disagrees, at least in Ontario, where a 1988 court ruling found that prayer in public schools violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, the situation is complicated in Alberta and Saskatchewan, two provinces whose entry into the Canadian Confederation in 1905 was partially contingent on a Constitutional exemption that protected their right to school prayer. It isn’t clear which of these two principles will emerge victorious.

Others are not even pretending to invoke secular reasoning for keeping the Lord’s Prayer. The National Post found one parent from Dr. Hamman School who argued that

[i]t’s very important that kids learn, from when they’re little, that there is someone greater than us and that we are submissive of Him.

School officials have stressed that the removal of the prayer from school is a temporary measure and may be reversed. Some prayer-supporting parents have encouraged compromises: making the prayer a weekly (rather than daily) ritual, or allowing children who do not pray to arrive in class after the morning prayer routine has concluded.

If prayer in public schools is found to violate the Charter rights of children who do not embrace the Christian faith, however, compromise may not be fair or appropriate. (“What if we only violate the children’s rights once weekly?”) It’s unclear whether these rights will reign supreme, or whether the majority opinion — and the majority religion — will prevail over families who choose not to pray.

(Image via Shutterstock)

About Sara Lin Wilde

Sara Lin Wilde is a recovering Catholic (and cat-holic, for that matter - all typographical errors are the responsibility of her feline friends). She lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where she is working on writing a novel that she really, really hopes can actually get published.

  • RedShasta

    There’s no reason to include prayer in Canadian schools. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that we have the freedom of religion. Forcing students to participate in a religiously biased recitation does not look like religious freedom to me.

  • Miss_Beara

    Muricans’ like to say “we have freedom of religion, not freedom from religion” but when faced with the possibility of reciting a muslim prayer everyday since, according to them, are not free from other religions, they tend to back track or completely ignore the comment.

  • Jeff

    I cannot understand this (because I’m a ‘Murican) but I find this so strange in the land of the First Nations, which didn’t know anything about xtian religion. I would think First Nation folks would be speaking up about this, or are they not in the public systems?

  • Kaelin

    Most First Nations people are still in reservations, and they have separate schools there. Growing up, I saw very few First Nations in the public schools. Just like us white folk, they’re mostly Christian as well. I’m pretty sure.

  • RedShasta

    Funny that, eh?

  • Mario Strada

    I am sure they are. Nothing like spreading the love of Jesus at the point of a musket

  • Pitabred

    I like the explicit “We’ve got to get them when they’re young” quote there. Like they know that beliefs must be instilled when they’re kids, otherwise they might see them for the crap that they are.

  • WillBell

    There aren’t a lot of First Nations, just as there isn’t a whole lot in the US, I’ve met lots of people who are First Nations (mostly by some small fraction, think 1/16 or smaller). And the only time I hear about it in my rural setting is when a hunter is complaining that the First Nations people get to hunt without the same limits as other people. They’re a small population, you know with all of the genocide and disease and all.

  • Artor

    Or an infected blanket.

  • Tiny Tim

    “Hamman” school? Wasn’t Hamman the guy in the Bible who killed a lot of Jews?

  • Insanitydividedby0

    My grandparents were forced to flee to Canada in the late 18th century (they were both 110 and 111 respectively when they died in the 9early 90s) and they were assimilated. They ended up being catholics and I grew up visiting their house which had a combination of catholic artifacts and Native ones. I suppose, on the bright side, at least their lives weren’t directly in danger of the trail of tears, but they had many family members who suffered and died because of it and those who survived did whatever they could to get away from this country (I live in the US now, my father married an Irish/Roma immigrant). My parents left the catholic church which caused them to be disowned for awhile from their parents as both sets where catholics and they became protestants, it is funny that I kind of followed in their footsteps as I left the church altogether which upset my parents quite a bit as well.

  • Adrian M. Kleinbergen

    If you want prayer in school, that’s what the Catholic Schools are for. The whole notion of “Public Schools” is that there would be no formal religious structure to the classes.
    My beef with religion is that they have to force it on everyone else or they start shunning those that resist and start issuing cowardly, anonymous death threats in the spirit of good christian tolerance. If the situation was in a mostly muslim community and the only prayers allowed were islamic the christian community would be howling in rage and sh*tting their collective pants because their precious dogma wasn’t put in it’s proper place of primacy. If kids and teachers want to pray, I say let ‘em but don’t force them to. It’s not religion’s place to do so.

  • Theory_of_I

    Get ‘em while they’re young — the vicious cycle.

    Religion arrogates a substantial part of it’s falsely claimed authority to acculturate children in the unquestioned acceptance of it’s doctrines by pervading and emulating both the colloquial and formalized processes of socialization and education of the young. This is a spurious prerogative sanctioned by consensus among it’s previously indoctrinated adherants

    Parents begin the process by informally training their children in language and behavioral norms and later introducing them to formal authority to continue their training in largely fact-based cultural and educational standards.

    Enter religious training…
    This is the time when religion is particularly pervasive in capturing and inculcating young, immature minds. Under the deceptive guise of misappropriated authority, religion repeatedly presents it’s varying versions of myth and superstition as proven fact, and reinforces it’s doctrines with the specter of unimaginable consequences.

    Once thoroughly indoctrinated, youngsters grow up accepting religion as fact much as they accepted arithmetic or grammar as indisputable necessities, and just as they strongly resist having to learn and adopt a new language or begin exclusively using the metric system (in the US), they are loathe to abandon their religion. Thus the cycle repeats again and again.

  • James Sutton

    What I find odd about all this is that I grew up in a fundamentalist xian group and I was not allowed to say the “Lord’s Prayer” because of the bible passage that speaks against praying with “vain repetitions”. So my parents had me excused from school prayer because of their xian beliefs. I think there’s probably a good case using biblical passages to have prayer removed from schools. LOL.

  • Dorothy

    you have to understand that Alberta is Canada’s red-neck province. Esp in small towns and rural areas. This would not be representative of Edmonton or most of the country.

  • Bruce Martin

    The people of Alberta are free to treasure their heritage as subjects of HM Queen Elizabeth II, head of the Church of England. So they can reject the atheists, and the First Nations people, and the Jews and Muslims, and the Eastern Orthodox, and the Roman Catholics, and the Baptists, Evangelicals, and Fundamentalists. With god’s love to back them up, they can tell everyone but the Anglican males to shut up and listen, eh?
    Is everyone in the traditional Alberta rural community happy now?

  • DonnaCM

    It never ceases to amaze me just how entrenched the Lord’s Prayer can be/has been. I realize my experiences are out-of-date, but I grew up in Ontario, attending public school there in the 70s and 80s. In the younger grades, we recited the prayer ourselves, but by middle school it was broadcast over the PA and all we were required to do was stand.

    Not once did my parents say a thing about it. These are the same people who, when I was in grade 4, found out that my teacher (who was also the Vice Principal) was having us read a psalm a day in class, and they put a stop to that shit. Like, I told my mother about it the day it was my turn to read one, the next day the next kid in the row read one, and the day after that – nothing. And yet they never addressed the Lord’s Prayer – not formally with the school, not by mentioning to me that I wasn’t required to participate, just not at all. I’m not criticizing them for it. I just find it interesting.

    Although my favourite childhood Lord’s Prayer experience happened when a friend and I were walking through the village and we cut a corner on the edge of a neighbour’s lot. (We were outside the ditch, so technically we were still on public property, but I was too young to know that at the time.) My friend felt guilty and insisted we stand on the side of the road and recite the Lord’s Prayer because we had just trespassed …

  • CanadianNihilist

    Oh Alberta, or Canada’s Texas as we call it.

    Alberta is the creepy uncle that shows up at thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas too make everybody else feel uncomfortable.
    We try to keep him contained at the far end of the table but he still ends up embarrassing the whole family. But He is family and you can’t kick him out. You just hope that one day he’ll get professional help stop being such a spaz.

  • Crash Override

    Perhaps these two provinces need to leave the Canadian Confederation and form their own sovereign nation…the Republic of Gilead comes to mind…

  • WillThor

    This is the type of thing that Toronto-based commentators like Mr. Enright seem to be missing when they whine about atheists. Toronto isn’t the whole country. We still have religious strongholds, especially in smaller towns. We still have discriminatory shit like this going on.

  • WillThor

    We forced whole generations of children to attend and live in “Residential Schools,” run by churches; children were separated from their families and cultures, abused, indoctrinated into Western Christian culture (all with disastrous effects for that and future generations). Absolutely heinous.

  • Conuly

    The correct response to this sort of thing is “Which version of The Lord’s Prayer?”

    And then, while the Catholics and Protestants duke it out, you run off with everybody’s wallets.