Horizon School Division will be discussing the issue at its Nov. 26 board meeting, but for the town of Taber, who according to Statistics Canada has 86 per cent of its residents identifying themselves as Christian, discussion has been sparked far past Horizon boardroom walls.
A Facebook page, “Bring Back Prayer to Dr. Hamman School” has been created which had 186 members as of Monday afternoon and the social media site has been abuzz with dialogue on both sides for the hot-button topic.
However, the issue pans out with policy and legal arguments in upcoming days, one concerned parent fears for the fallout that may happen for family caught in the middle of the politics for the contingent who wish to see the Lord’s Prayer taken out of public schools here locally.
That parent is Luke Fevin, who was front and centre in the same debate a couple of years ago involving his childrens’ school in St. Albert, Alta.
With children who were five and seven years old at the time, Fevin pleaded with the Sturgeon School Board to remove the Lord’s Prayer from his childrens’ school in St. Albert.
“The fallout was brutal. My wife while we were still there (at the former school in question) was bullied at a Thanksgiving celebration by other mothers saying Thanksgiving was a religious thing and she shouldn’t be there,” said Fevin.
“One of the reasons I fell in love with my wife is she is a strong woman. I found her in my driveway in her van, crying her eyes out from her treatment from other parents. My kids couldn’t figure out why they weren’t getting invited to birthday parties anymore — the playdates started drying up. Other kids were actually saying to them ‘your dad is trying to take God out of our school.’ Ultimately, we had to change schools — it was a brutal experience.”
Fevin’s wife has ties to the large Bible Belt of southern Alberta in Coaldale and Lethbridge and where the example may not be as extreme as the Islam example, the white elephant in the room is bullying and coercion can happen in Christianity as well, according to Fevin.
Up until a couple of years ago, in Morinville, on the outskirts of Edmonton, there were four ‘public’ schools which were all parochial Catholic schools.
That in essence made a separate school board, which despite having well over half the families with kids registered in Morinville schools not being Catholic, having no secular schools to call their own in town.
Debate raged in that area as well, as some non-Catholic families started a campaign for a secular public school for their children in Morinville, which was quashed by the Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional Division which the Morinville schools fell under as the ‘public’ school system.
“At the meeting I was at, I was quite stunned with what was said. The public school board said ‘our number-one mandate is to permeate Catholicism’,” said Fevin.
Uproar continued where the education minister stepped in and it was eventually flipped Catholic public to a Catholic separate system in which the Protestant separate system became the public secular ironically enough with the aid of the Sturgeon School Board, converting one of the Catholic schools to a public school.
According to Fevin, families who spearheaded the campaign suffered fallout from fellow residents unhappy with the decision.
“There were a dozen families that asked for that, it’s a basic right. They legally and morally had right on their side, yet half of those families left Morinville after. Even if it was you that was being denied rights, there was the hate, the vitriol and the nastiness that comes with this as an issue can be absolutely frightening.”
In Fevin’s cause, the Sturgeon School Board would end up coming to a compromise in drafting a Lord’s Prayer policy with options to not participate or be segregated from those participating in the prayer according to the policy that was drafted.
This policy was drafted despite the legal precedence that was presented involving prayer in school, according to Fevin.
“The new policy was to segregate children every day. We made numerous presentations to the Sturgeon board where gave them the findings of Zylberberg vs. Sudbury Board of Education which is Ontario Board of Appeal 1988 and Russow vs. British Columbia Supreme Court 1999 which are the only two courts in Canada to rule on this circumstance,” said Fevin. “Both courts found identically, that segregating children to say the Lord’s Prayer denied children and their families the fundamental freedoms as provided by the Charter on two counts. One was that it was coercive and stigmatized children and secondly, it forced families to self identify their religious beliefs. Even in the face of both of those court rulings, the trustees from my old school board, still said the majority of people want it and so if the majority of people want to deny the fundamental freedoms of a minority then that is what we are going to do.”
Fevin has since transferred his children to another school and hopes with agnostic Melanie Bell who filed the original complaint about the Lord’s Prayer and others of like mind wanting to separate religion from public education are treated better than the fallout that has happened further north in the province dealing with the same contentious issue.