The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) strongly denounce the banning of most forms of prayer in Quebec schools. On April 5th, Quebec’s Minister of Education Bernard Drainville issued a directive banning schools from using classrooms (and other school facilities) for prayer, while allowing students to pray quietly and discreetly on their own.

This directive is a significant shift from his original position in favor of multi-confessional prayer spaces.

Prayer spaces in schools exist to accommodate students whose religious practices require a peaceful and safe space for prayers in order to comply with students’ religious beliefs. Schools have an obligation to accommodate students in a variety of ways to create a positive learning environment; accommodation for prayers is no different.

“Once again, we see this Quebec government using secularism as a pretext to police and take away rights from minorities.” said Stephen Brown, CEO of NCCM. “If we are to take Minister Bernard Drainville at his word, kids in school will only be allowed to exercise their fundamental right to pray if they do so in a manner deemed acceptable by the Ministry of Education.”

« The government’s failure to acknowledge the duty to accommodate students, particularly those who are religious minorities, is of great concern to us” said Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, Executive Director and General Counsel of the CCLA. “If a group of students exercises their religious freedoms, this does not undermine the government’s objective of creating a secular state power. Banning religious rights and this kind of accommodation harms the freedoms of minority students while providing no benefit to anyone.”

This directive—using the power of the state to interfere in the spiritual lives of children—comes right after Premier Francois Legault’s recent comments that highlight the Catholic nature of Quebec society. He castigated his critics by imploring them to differentiate between religion and Quebec’s Catholic heritage.

This double standard makes evident that the government of Quebec does not seek a laicité that applies equally to all, but a laicité grounded in Quebec’s Catholic heritage that privileges the majority, while restricting and attacking the rights of minorities.