Four days ago a Saskatchewan mother started a petition in an effort to remove mandatory religious prayers from public schools in the province.
Dusti Hennenfent's children go to Lindale Public Elementary School in Moose Jaw. The school plays the Lord's Prayer over the PA system every morning.
Under the Education Act, Saskatchewan schools are allowed to have mandatory prayers for students, even in public schools.
Should prayers be included in classroom time in public schools?
'I don't understand the purpose of having religious worship for one religion at a public school.' - Dusti Hennenfent
"I'm concerned that it really doesn't have respect for the individual beliefs of the students," said Hennenfent. "I don't understand the purpose of having religious worship for one religion at a public school."
Prayers in schools are not as common as they once were but there is no policy outright banning them from public schools.
According to Hennenfent, the prayer is recited at her children's school but is never discussed or explained, and serves no educational purpose.
She thinks it's a violation of human rights.
Last year, after speaking with the school, she asked the provincial government to repeal the section of Education Act that allows public schools to include religious prayers.
"After the school had gathered their information from the parents and said that the majority did want the prayer to continue, I went and made a presentation to the school board," said Hennenfent. She hoped to bring up her concerns and share alternative options with the board.
"When I originally called the school and discussed this, at the very initial part of this process, I called the principal and she said that kids did have the option to leave the classroom [during the prayer]," said Hennenfent.
However, she said she was never made aware of that option, nor were her children. She also canvassed parents from seven different classrooms and learned that none of those children had been told that they had the option of leaving the classroom during the prayer.
The school has said that it will continue with the Lord's Prayer because the majority of parents, about 90 per cent, are in favour of it.
"I agree that 91 per cent is an overwhelming majority," Hennenfent said. "My question to that is, should the school be expected to respect 91 per cent of the students or 100 per cent of the students?"
Officials respond with written statements
The school division released a statement Friday saying the issue was debated at a board meeting and trustees voted 6 - 3 in favour of keeping the prayer. The division said it was following the law and honouring the views expressed in a poll of members of school parent councils.
The provincial government, when asked about the matter, responded with a written statement which said school divisions are "autonomous and responsible for local decision and policy making".
David Arnot, head of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, said Friday that he agrees with Hennenfent.
"What you can't do is choose one religion over another," Arnot said. "A dominant religion, like Christianity, doesn't get preference to other religions."
He added that, in his opinion, the section of the law that allows for prayers in schools is outdated (it dates to 1995) and would likely be re-written if challenged in court.
The commission considered the issue when it was brought to it as a complaint in 1999 and found the law was discriminatory. However, the commission's conclusion was treated as a recommendation.
Hennenfent said the choice should be an individual one, for students to make.
"I'm not against students praying," she added. "I support them doing it in a private manner."
She noted that her community, Moose Jaw, and the province have a growing mix of people from many cultures with many religious beliefs and that should also be considered.
"Moose Jaw is moving forward, as far as the diverse background of the people that we have here," Hennenfent said. "We want to be recognized as progressive."