Tension was running high as two vocal groups, both for and against Muslim prayer service in schools, tried to out-shout each other. Toronto Police officers kept the groups apart and from protesting on the sidewalk outside the Toronto District School Board’s Yonge St. headquarters on Saturday because they didn’t have permits.
“I am here to support the board for letting us pray in school,” said Aayman Karin, 13, one of about 100 Muslim students who pray on certain Fridays in the cafeteria of Valley Park Middle School, on Overlea Blvd. “It is a good thing for us because we don’t have to leave the school.”
Karin said students feel more comfortable praying in school with their classmates. “There is too much fuss being made about this issue,” Karin said. “We have the freedom to do this and we are not doing anything wrong.”
Organizer Chris Andrewsen said the event was in support of the TDSB and brought together students from a number of Toronto schools.
About three metres away, a coalition of protestors demonstrated against religion in schools using a bullhorn to drown out the TDSB supporters. They used the bullhorn to yell about Allah and suicide bombers as the Canadian anthem was played.
“We are here because religion has no place in our schools,” said Ron Banerjee, of Canadian Hindu Advocacy. “We want religion out of all our schools.” His group was joined by the Jewish Defence League Canada, Costas Christian Mission, Evangelical Asian Church, International Christian Voice, and Canadian Egyptian Congress. Rev. Tony Costa, of Costa Christ Mission, accused the TDSB of showing “preferential treatment to Muslims”.
An uproar erupted earlier in the summer when it surfaced that board officials were allowing Valley Park students to hold prayer sessions with an imam in the cafeteria during school hours. School board officials have said they plan to continue the practice despite opposition.
See also CBC News, 18 September 2011
A second anti-prayer protest against was held on Sunday, organised by the Canadian Secular Alliance, who waved placards with the slogan “Stop faith-based bigotry!” See the Toronto Sun, 18 September 2011
Looks like divisions have emerged within the anti-TDSB campaign. The appalling Muslim Canadian Congress seems to have steered clear of the Saturday protest and supported the secularist demonstration on Sunday instead. Perhaps even the MCC had become embarrassed by its public association with the far-right racist Jewish Defence League. The right-wing coalition that staged the Saturday protest is also having difficulty agreeing a common line, with Banerjee condemning all forms of religion in schools and the Christians demanding greater recognition for their own faith. The JDL, for its part, has no objection to Jewish prayers in schools but wants to deny Muslims the same right.