However, schools who currently recite the prayer each morning will be allowed to continue to do so. School board members unanimously passed that motion Tuesday, along with a motion to develop a policy on future usage of the prayer inside Horizon schools.
Prior to making those decisions, trustees heard from those with opposing viewpoints on the subject in presentations to the board, as Colleen Pack, representing the group trying to bring the prayer back to Dr. Hamman, said there is a spirit of tolerance and co-operation at Dr. Hamman.
“We’re hoping you can continue that and develop a policy to make the Lord’s Prayer an option,” she said, and added the hope is ultimately the prayer can be reinstated without infringing on anyone’s rights.
Jenny Daisley, who also spoke in favour of bringing back the prayer, said it all comes down to three main points for the group. She added the prayer brings a spirit of peace to the school, that a solution should be found to satisfy all involved and a school without the Lord’s Prayer would not be representative of the community as a whole, as she pointed out a petition with about 900 signatures had been collected in support of the prayer.
Melanie Bell, who spoke against the use of the prayer at the school, said despite the petition, the issue should not come down to a matter of public opinion.
“The question of whether the Lord’s Prayer should be in the school should be not a democracy,” she told the board. “The majority should not be given a platform to deny the rights of others.”
She added the act of segregating children during the Lord’s Prayer, if that was the ultimate decision, would serve to stigmatize those students, and she offered up another solution.
“I would like to invite my Christian friends to form a Christian prayer group and have their children pray at first break, at lunch time or second break in a room provided by the school,” said Bell. “This solution allows the Christians to fully exercise their right to freedom of religion, yet allows the non-Christians to maintain their right to freedom from religion. At the same time it removes the burden from the board and the school by moving the time of worship from class-time to ‘personal time.’”
At this point, however, the school division admitted a lot of work will need to be done to develop a policy.
“These are complex issues, and obviously it’s an issue everyone has a strong opinion on,” said Horizon Supt. Wilco Tymensen.
He added the issue does not come down to democracy, as the school board has the right to develop the guidelines it wishes to put in place.
Tymensen added a number of Horizon schools recite the prayer each morning, including all 18 of its Hutterite schools, along with Chamberlain School, Vauxhall Elementary School, Hays School, Enchant School, Lomond School, Central School’s Mennonite program, the Horizon Mennonite Alternative School and the Taber Mennonite School.
Under the rule of law, however, those schools were not compliant in their recital of the prayer each morning, without a motion from the board, which did come yesterday.
Trustee Jennifer Crowson made the motion, since she added no one in those schools has come forward against it.
Trustee Bruce Francis, who made the motion in favour of the development of a division-wide policy, said the process should involve stakeholder input every step of the way, which would be open for public feedback.
Tymensen said it likely be a lengthy process, and added in many parts of southern Alberta, the Lord’s Prayer is common, as the majority of Palliser Regional Schools recite the prayer, for example.
“It’s fairly prevalent from what I understand. It’s slowly come back over time at the request of parents and really we’ve hardly thought about it much until now.”
Horizon board chairman said there is now timeline in place in terms of the policy’s development, or no direction at this time in terms of what the policy could look like.
“There are so many things we need to take into consideration. We have to try and do what’s best for the students.”
And while school board officials remarked repeatedly about how complicated the issue was, Bell, in her presentation to the board, said that actually is not the case.
“This issue can appear complex because of the multiple opinions, sensibilities and subject matter. But it is not. To force or coerce anybody to worship is clearly wrong. For those that cannot arrive at this most basic conclusion alone, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, The Alberta Human Rights Act and the Alberta Education Act all demand that those that wish to be exempt may be so.”