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Muslim organizations file lawsuit over Canadian school prayer ban

Supporters at a public funeral at the Islamic Center of Southwest Ontario pray for the Afzaal family after members of the family were run over by a truck, on June 12, 2021, in London, Canada. (Photo by AFP)

Six Muslim organizations in Canada have filed a lawsuit in a court in the province of Quebec, calling for a recent provincial order that prohibits all forms of prayer in public schools to be declared “unconstitutional." 

The plaintiffs, which include the Muslim Association of Canada, the Canadian Muslim Forum and four local organizations, filed their case in Quebec Superior Court this week after Education Minister Bernard Drainville issued a directive that formally prohibited any practices of religious activity in schools, vocational training centers or adult education centers. 

The groups are seeking a judicial review of the ban, arguing that the order is discriminatory against Muslims and violates the right to freedom of religion and of association.

"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.

"Since it is a complete ban on all forms of prayer and since prayer is an essential component of Muslim religious practice, this ban discriminates against one group of individuals to the detriment of other groups," it adds.

Drainville ordered the ban on April 19 after reports of at least two Canadian schools permitting students to gather on school property for prayer. 

He said the concept of prayer rooms runs counter to Quebec's policy of official secularism, adding 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.''

The Muslim groups further said in their court filing 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 favor one religion rather than another or to target, directly or indirectly, one religion rather than another.”

The plaintiffs also noted that the decision to go before the courts was a last resort and came after extensive consultation.

Canada is one of the top emerging centers of Islamophobia and hate crimes around the world, as it saw a rapid increase in the 21st century.   

Canadians with Middle Eastern backgrounds have also been specifically targeted and victimized by Islamophobia in the context of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Islamophobia has manifested itself in the vandalism of mosques and physical assaults on Muslims, including violence against Muslim women wearing hijabs.

In 2020, researchers found the number of hate groups operating in the country had tripled in recent years.

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