Local residents expressed their anger Tuesday night at a decision by a school board in a suburb of Toronto, Canada to reverse its policy on monitoring Muslim sermons.
Last September, concerned about the potential for radical Islamic propaganda infiltrating religious meetings, the Peel Regional School Board had insisted that students read prayers and sermons from an approved text. The board’s decision to allow students to write their own sermons resulted in angry residents storming a public meeting held to discuss the policy change.
Protestors were told to remove their signs because they were deemed anti-Muslim and one woman was taken outside by police after she interrupted the meeting with her objections.
Anger over the move was evident on social media. Protestor John Goddard wrote: “Anti-sharia activist Sandra Solomon, born a Palestinian Muslim in Ramallah but [who] left Islam, disrupt[ed] a Peel District School Board meeting on Tuesday night. The board tabled a staff report recommending expansion of Muslim religious privileges in public schools.”
Muslim students in the province of Ontario are entitled to hold weekly prayer meetings, held on Friday. These “Jumm’ah” prayer and sermon sessions have been the focus of intense criticism as the provincial public school system is not supposed to be promoting any religion or hosting any religious instruction. Many schools will not even host Christmas music concerts in deference to non-Christian faiths who may be offended by the observance.
Board members justified the policy reversal by insisting it represented a commitment to inclusiveness:
“The board has always been committed to an inclusive approach in all activities related to religious accommodation for students and staff of all faiths,” director of education Tony Pontes said in a statement released Tuesday night.
Muslim students and their parents argued the ban on personalized sermons negatively impacted the religious freedom of the students while suggesting a stereotyped view of Islam.
“This was about creating a safe space for students, for students to feel equal to the rest of their peers,” high school student Zoya Alam said. “So, this is a positive step for the school board to be creating this safe space and inclusive community.”
Though the sermons are spoken in English — the Qur’an is quoted in Arabic. The prayer meetings will continue to be supervised by a school staff members, according to the new policy.
Peel police came to the meeting after some Muslim students claimed they had received undisclosed “hate speech” messages.