Mayor Linda Jeffrey wrote a letter Thursday supporting recent changes to the way Muslim students are allowed to pray in public schools and challenged the “misinformation and hateful speech” of some who questioned the local school board’s decision.
Jeffrey was responding to critics in a letter she released Thursday as Toronto-area parents in the Peel District School Board are preparing a full-scale protest on Saturday to demand that public schools not promote one religion over another.
The parents have organized a “Canada First” movement and plan a “Walk to Oppose Religion in Schools” this weekend at Celebration Square near Square One in Mississauga, a suburb of Toronto. They are also opposed to the motion introduced by local Liberal Member of Parliament Iqra Khalid that would ban “Islamophobia” and potentially make their protest subject to hate crimes legislation.
The parents are furious with the Peel District School Board’s decision to lift all restrictions on what are called “Friday prayer days” for Muslim students. The sessions take place on school time and include both prayers and sermons that are usually read in Arabic — leading many to ask just what is being said.
At the last board meeting, parents expressed their outrage over school board chairwoman Janet McDougald’s dismissive attitude when she was asked, “When you vote to allow Islamic Prayer in public schools, will you record all sermons that are offered in Arabic so we can analyze them later to ensure there is no hate speech being offered?”
McDougald called the questioner a “racist” and threatened to not take any more questions at the meeting.
In January the board lifted restrictions it had placed on the Muslim students that limited their selection of prayers and sermons to a pre-approved list. Now they can choose whatever they want.
Parents also want to know why there is Muslim prayer in public schools when no other religion is accommodated with special prayer sessions.
It’s not just Christian parents who are upset. The head of Canadian Hindu Advocacy, Ron Banerjee, suggested the Muslim prayers “may violate Canadian values.”
The Brampton mayor is unmoved. “I am troubled by the misinformation, fear mongering and outright falsehoods being spread by some,” Jeffrey wrote, making the dubious claim that the Ontario Human Rights Code gives Muslims the right to pray in public schools.