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Lord’s Prayer returns to Dr. Hamman

Posted on April 29, 2015 by Taber Times

By J.W. Schnarr
Taber Times

After two years, the Lord’s Prayer will once more be part of the morning ritual at Dr. Hamman Elementary School.

On April 21 at their regular board meeting, Horizon School Division board of trustees unanimously passed a motion to allow the school to once more begin the day with the prayer, beginning in the fall.

A request for comment from Dr. Hamman School principal Darlene Peckford was directed to Wilco Tymensen, school superintendent.

“The board very much believes in the notion of religious tolerance and wants to acknowledge religious diversity,” he said. “At the same time, it is trying to be receptive to the desires of the community.”

The decision came following submission of the results of a survey held by the Dr. Hamman School Parent Council.

The survey, which asked families to choose whether they supported a request from council to the board to allow the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer as part of the school’s opening exercises beginning in the fall of 2015.

It also informed parents that that the council had determined 70 per cent of the surveys needed to be returned and that 70 per cent of those returned needed to be in support of the action.

“This is to ensure there is a ‘strong majority’ for the request going forward,” the survey indicated, and noted without a strong majority, the council would not move forward with the request.

“We made every effort to give our parent membership a voice regarding the Lord’s Prayer according to the new horizon policy,” indicated Tammy Janzen, School Parent Council chair, in a prepared statement. “The voice of the parents strongly supported requesting the Horizon School Board to consider reinstating the Lord’s Prayer as part of the opening exercises in the 2015 – 2016 school year.”

A decision to end the recitation of the prayer occurred in late 2013 after complaints from some local residents. At that time, there was no mechanism in place for HSD to deal with the issue of prayer in public school.

The resulting controversy made national headlines and shone a light on the issue of religion in publicly-funded public schools.

Last year, the board instituted a new policy, which would serve as a mechanism to either allow or disallow the practice depending on the wishes of parents.

“Part of the rationale there, I think, is that people were misinformed,” said Tymensen, noting while many concerned residents from other parts of the country may be under the assumption that just because a decision is rendered in one province means that it applies equally to Alberta, which is not the case.

“There are differences in laws. Alberta has an amendment to the (Canadian Constitution) through the Northwest Territories Ordinance of 1901. When our forefathers joined Confederation (in 1905), they specifically said they wanted that provision built in or they wouldn’t join Canada. So while that provision is built in for Alberta, it’s not necessarily built in for other provinces.”

He added the provision continues to have implications to this day.

Tymensen said more than half the schools in the division currently engage in morning prayer, but added the practice isn’t limited to HSD.

“There’s probably a large number of rural schools in Alberta where the activity is still happening. It’s not solely our jurisdiction.”

In voting to allow the prayer, Ward 4 Trustee Derek Baron said he supports parents right to choose whether to allow the practice or not.

“I agree that if the majority of people want it, then we should abide by their wishes,” he said.

At the board meeting, administration stated there are 175 families in the school, and 140 responded. Of those, 12 families said they did not want the practice in their school.

Tymensen said there are two way in which parents not wishing to take part in the practice at school can proceed, including having the child step out of the classroom for the duration of the prayer, or having the child in class but not participate in the prayer.

“Under the legislation, they have the ability to say, ‘I don’t want my child participating’,” he said. “That’s perfectly legal and perfectly acceptable.” He added parents wishing to go that route could be assured it would be done as discretely and quickly as possible.

“It’s not that suddenly children are being forced to engage in that practice when parents may choose not to want to have their children involved in it.”

He also noted the board had a legal obligation to ensure students are not ostracized or singled out for refusing to take part in the prayer.

“As a school, we have a legal obligation to maintain safe and caring environments,” said Tymensen. “There’s always a risk of anything, I can’t guarantee anything 100 per cent for safety, but I can tell you that safety, and fitting in, and not being ostracized is one of our primary objectives and primary responsibilities. Maintaining an environment where all kids are safe and accepted is hugely high on our priority list.”

“The board is committed to listening and responding to parents,” he said. “We recognize that there are times when not all parents will have the same opinion, and when that happens, the board is placed in a position where they have to make a decision that will not make all people happy, but they will do that to the best of their ability, guided by legislation and policy.”

4 Responses to “Lord’s Prayer returns to Dr. Hamman”

  1. luke.fevin says:

    Here’s why Horizon School Div is just about to get sued by it’s parents. You don’t get to vote away the Rights of others.

    The legal argument for permitting the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in Taber & other Public school boards in Alberta is flawed. Not only is it being incorrectly applied, it is actually directly leading to the Public school boards putting themselves in legal jeopardy by knowingly denying Charter Rights the Children & families that it has a very specific fiduciary duty of care to.
    Very simply, in the two cases toward the end of the 1980’s (the reason that most of the rest of Canada stopped this practise in the 80’s & early ’90’s – remember?) testing this exact scenario, both found identically that the practise denied the non-Christian, non-Prayers their Canadian Charter Rights (Fundamental Freedom, FROM Religion) because the practise, was “coercive”, it “stigmatized families & their children” & it forced people to self identify their religious beliefs.
    Zylberberg v. Sudbury Board of Education, 1988 CanLII 189 (ON CA)…/1988canlii189/1988canlii189.html
    Russow v. B.C. (A.G.) Supreme Court of British Columbia Date: 1989-01-23…/1989canlii2688/1989canlii2688.pdf
    The argument to perform the prayer fails simply because there is no legal requirement compelling them to do so. Chapter 29, Section 137 of the NWT School Ordinance (1901) is typically cited as the legislation establishing the Right to do so (it would later become part of The Alberta Act, or the Albertan “Constitution”). Here is the specific text;
    “Religious instruction.
    137 – No religious instruction except as hereinafter provided shall be permitted in the school of any district from the opening of such school until one half hour previous to its closing in the afternoon after which time any such instruction permitted or desired by the board may be given.
    Time for the Lord’s prayer
    (2) It shall however be permissible for the board of any district to direct that the school be opened by the recitation of the Lord’s prayer.”…/historical/ONWT-1901-CH-29.pdf
    So, the Right of the board to CHOOSE to do so is established. But there is no compulsion for it to do so. Neither is there any personal Right granted to any parent that their child would have such an opportunity.
    In summary, the Public School Board has voluntarily chosen to enact a process that it knows denies children in it’s care their Charter Rights.
    The fact that it thinks that Rights of children that it has a fiduciary duty of care to can be denied based on a majority vote is even more reprehensible.
    The Board, the School & the Community should be ashamed of itself.
    This scenario is exactly why the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in Big M Drug Mart V R. (Lord’s Day) that the (non-Christian) minority needed protection from “the tyranny of the majority”.
    This practise continues in Public Schools all over Alberta & it is time it stopped. I invite the 12 families in Taber, or from anywhere in Alberta including Sturgeon School Division in St Albert to contact me

    • Christian says:

      Who would you deny their rights? The 10% that say no, or the 90% that say yes to prayer before starting their school day? I applaud the Horizon School Board on their decicion to give the 90% what they ask for! The 10% are not required to participate.

      • luke.fevin says:

        I provided information and links to both court cases where the judges ruled that to segregate for the Lord’s Prayer was to deny the non-prayers their Charter Rights above.

        Either accept that both courts ruled identically, or read the rulings with the reasons “why”.

        What Horizon is doing is both wrong & illegal – this has already been legally demonstrated, and I suspect is going to be legally demonstrated again very soon.

  2. glendaaus says:

    It is hard to imagine in a diverse society what the reasoning behind using the Lords Prayer a Public School would be? As with in Mr Fevin’s letter the School Board should be ashamed of themselves for believing they are above the Canadian Charter of Rights and previous Court rulings.
    Not everyone feels the same as you do, and I would presume your religion teaches tolerance – when this clearly shows none. To have to remove your child because you do not want them to participate — then makes your child the minority. As an advocate for minorities it will be my pleasure to work with these wonderful people to have the laws of Canada upheld regardless of a survey. I may be contacted via email

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