Canadian Muslim groups sue over school prayer ban


Muslim organisations in Canada are asking the courts to declare a provincial proclamation in Quebec that bans religious activity in schools as unconstitutional. 

Six groups – which include the Muslim Association of Canada, the Canadian Muslim Forum and four local organisations – filed a lawsuit this week asking the Quebec Superior Court to “declare constitutionally invalid, inapplicable, inoperative, or to annul” the order to prohibit all forms of prayer in public schools. 

“The plaintiffs request that a declaratory judgment concerning the interpretation to be given to the principles of laicity and religious neutrality of the state be rendered so that these principles cannot be used to order prohibitions of prayers or other religious practices in public places,” the filing reads.

The groups argued that the order is discriminatory and violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The directive by education minister Bernard Drainville banning prayers in schools was announced on 19 April after there were reports of at least two Canadian schools permitting students to gather on school property for prayer.

Drainville issued a directive that formally prohibited any practices of religious activity, whether it be in schools, vocational training centres or adult education centres. 

At that time, he defended his ruling saying that school spaces cannot be used “in fact and in appearance, for the purposes of religious practices such as open prayers or other similar practices’.’

In their court filing, the groups write that state secularism aims to ensure that the state is not religious. 

“The resulting obligation of state religious neutrality should not be interpreted in such a way as to favour one religion rather than another or to target, directly or indirectly, one religion rather than another.”

Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate groups

Islamophobia is “deeply” entrenched in Canadian society, and Black hijab-wearing women are the most vulnerable, a Canadian Senate committee report said last month.

Far-right and anti-Muslim hate groups are growing, along with incidents of hate, according to a report by the Senate Committee on Human Rights. The report is set to be released in its entirety in July.

In 2017, Muslim and civil rights groups challenged a Quebec ban on officials or anyone receiving public services from covering their faces, arguing it infringes on women’s and Muslim religious rights.

In 2021, a court in Quebec upheld parts of a law that bans some government workers from wearing religious symbols – such as the hijab – at work, despite acknowledging that it violates the rights of Muslim women.

The Quebec Superior Court ruled that, while the law known as Bill 21 has “serious and negative consequences for all those who wear religious symbols in public”, it ultimately does not violate “the Canadian constitutional architecture”.

Last month, a Middle East Eye investigation found that the Canadian government’s conduct highlights the discrepancy between how some charities are treated during and after being audited and how the Canadian government treats Muslim charities, researchers, and practitioners in the charity sector. 

The Muslim charities who were faced with audits and revocations were never granted the opportunity to delay the revocations of their status like the other groups were. 

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