The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board has released a “Equity Policy Interim Religious Accommodation Guide.” You may read or download it here. You may comment on it here, by 4 pm, June 9th.
I found it to be largly a concession that some students come from homes where the religon of the family requires them to eat differently, dress differently, celebrate different days, etc. But where it really matters, what the student really thinks, believes, and the implications of those beliefs (politics, ethics, morals, “secular decisions” etc), the Ontario Human Rights Code is the final bible, scripture, pope, and council of elders.
After reading the policy, you may wish to peruse my comments below:
This document does not address the harassment of religious beliefs by teachers. This problem was recently highlighted in the Hamilton Spectator (13 Friday, 2011).
At best, it acknowledges differences in diet, dress, and religious holidays, but not the heart of religion, which is its practise in morality, ethics, and politics. This policy assumes a secular understanding of belief that no major world religion believes of itself or could accept as a description of itself.
From Page 2:
“The existence of religious beliefs and practices are both necessary and sufficient to the meaning of creed, if the beliefs and practices are sincerely held and/or observed.”
What is the test of sincerity? How will the School Board ensure that such a test is administered fairly and evenly? Are there objective measures of sincerity?
From Page 2:
“Creed does not include secular, moral, or ethical beliefs or political convictions. This policy does not extend to religions that incite hatred or violence against other individuals or groups, or to practices and observances that purport to have a religious basis, but which contravene international human rights standards or criminal law.”
This definition of creed itself violates religious freedom, because it limits the nature of creed to the realm of the private. Convictions are the necessary outcome of creeds. This statement basically asserts the right to hold a creed, but not the right to hold it to the point of acting upon it.
This statement does nothing to protect a student from harassment, arising from moral, ethical, or political teaching that directly contravenes their faith.
Most religions of convictions do indeed contravene international rights standards. For example, homosexuality is understood as sinful behaviour in the Christian community. Is the Christian student taught otherwise, against his/her creed? How is this not harassment?
How does the policy against the incitement of hatred or violence square with religions that advocate violence against other religions?
As to the matter of “inciting violence,” this is really a red herring that raises the most extreme outcome of a religious commitment; for “violence” has been so widely interpreted to describe anyone upset by a religious discussion as a victim of violence (unless, of course, that violence is perpetrated by the school against a religious student’s beliefs). Furthermore, if the school board really practised this, all forms of Islam would be banned in all its expressions.
From Page 8:
“It cannot, however, accommodate religious values and beliefs that clearly conflict with mandated Ministry of Education and Board policies.”
This means that if the Ministry of Education mandates an immoral sex education curriculum, there is no exemption based upon faith.
There really is no religious accommodation where it matters–the student’s life.
“The right to freedom of religion, however, is not absolute.”
“These decisions will be made in accordance with the principles of the Ontario Human Rights Code.”
This is an important point. Who determines the limits of religious freedom? It appears that the Ontario Human Rights Code is absolute. This is unacceptable to any person who believes that absolutes are God’s prerogative, not government’s. I believe that the inclusion of this final point indicates that Ministry of Education, and by extension, the HWDSB has neither the will, intention, nor the ability to deal with religious issues in schools. This is a problem of a government monopoly on education, and can only be solved by funding of separate religious school boards.
The writers have the secular arrogance that purports to see all religions and cultures as of equal truth, and therefore of equal validity and worth. Religious people themselves do not see themselves through the secular lens, so this whole document comes off as very condescending. What the writers don’t seem to get is that whether Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, Atheist, etc., the holder of these positions do, at some point, understand their faith to be true in an absolute sense.