Recently, the topic of The Lord’s Prayer in public schools across Alberta has come back into public media discourse, after a St. Albert school sent a letter home to parents regarding their continued practice of allowing the prayer by segregating the students into prayer and non-prayer rooms each morning.
Along with this news, there has also been a lot of discussion surrounding government budgets for school systems, after the MacKinnon Report seemed to point towards major cuts to education and healthcare systems. This has spurred a renewed interest in topics regarding public funding of duplicate systems in our province, and discussions about ending funding to Catholic Schools, including a resurgence of my OP Ed regarding the Catholic School funding issues from December of last year.
In both these instances, the prayer issue and funding of Catholic schools issue, the media and readers miss the nuance within the arguments. This leads to misinterpretation of the motivations behind these concerns, and people basically writing off the issues as attacks on religion, or as anti-theist in their nature due to what is seen as atheist bias.
This is not the motivation at all and while most of us leading the charge on these issues are outspoken atheists, faith and religion aren’t really the point. These issues could easily be swapped out for concerns regarding racism, or sexism. The concern that segregation is happening, and that one group seemingly has extra special privileges over the rest of us is what we are actually calling out, not the religion itself.
Let’s say we all love iced treats; ice cream, popsicles or whichever (insert your favourite type here) . We might all love different flavours, some of us might need lactose free versions, some might have sensitive teeth to cold treats, so we prefer milkshakes through a straw…..the list of variations of preferences or requirements goes on and on.
Now, imagine each morning pistachio flavoured ice cream made with milk is given to everyone at your workplace (not an ice cream business), regardless of whether they enjoy it, or can even have it. Everyone pays into a fund so that your work can afford to buy the ice cream in the first place, even though not everyone partakes. Eventually, after some arguing, the pistachio flavoured ice cream is only offered to those that enjoy and want it, leaving everyone else to do without. We might even ask the pistachio flavoured ice cream lovers to go to a separate room, or the non-pistachio lovers to go to a different room, segregating everyone into groups. In some cases, it’s given to those whose family decide they should have it, rather than them deciding for themselves.
Some people decide we should offer whichever kind of treat each of us want, but then discover the work rules only allow us to give pistachio ice cream and nothing else, because when the rule was written, everyone at the business loved and could eat pistachio ice cream. So, only pistachio ice cream continues to be offered. We still require the non-pistachio lovers to pay into the fund though, as now the pistachio eaters can’t cover the cost on their own. As time has gone on, the business employees become more diverse, and less and less people can eat or like pistachio ice cream. Now, most people are left out.
The issue here isn’t that pistachio ice cream lovers shouldn’t be allowed their pistachio ice cream, it’s that we are segregating people, continuing a practice that leaves the bulk of our community behind, and that the rule is outdated. It has now become a privilege of the pistachio lovers to receive this treat, particularly as it is funded by everyone, but enjoyed by only a few. The answer isn’t to add in every type of ice cream treat imaginable to ensure everyone is included (against the rules, while costs and logistics make this quite unreasonable), the answer is for the pistachio lovers to enjoy their ice cream in their own homes, or bring their own pistachio ice cream to enjoy during break times.
Pistachio ice cream, obviously, equals The Lord’s Prayer, or in the bigger context, the Catholic School system, which is the only religiously affiliated group that receives 100% public funding in our province.
Some of the pushback to this view is steeped in the laws I mentioned, that it is a ‘’right’’ to continue this practice, despite our demographics and community having changed in the past 100 years since this was put into place. David King, one of the main voices behind Our Idea, eloquently tackles this objection, explaining that rights are for all, and that not all constitutional rights are human rights. When you move into a situation where rights leave many behind, then it is no longer a right, but rather a privilege.
One right we do all have is the right to have freedom of thought and religion. Fighting for an end to the laws that enable a privilege to continue is fighting for everyone to have the right to religion equally, not as many misinterpret it, to be an attack on religion altogether. Secularism (keeping religion out of the public sphere) is the only stance that allows everyone in society access to this charter right.
This hasn’t ever really been about religion per se, but the privilege one religion has over others in our province. It’s time for that privilege to end, and for us all to become equals.