Lord's Prayer banned 25 years ago after Sudbury protest
A Jew, Muslim and a non-believer filed a lawsuit in 1985 under the Charter of Rights
This September marks 25 years since a group of Sudbury parents had the Lord's Prayer removed from Ontario public schools.
Philip Zylberberg and two other Sudbury parents won a decision saying the reciting of the prayer — and non-Christian children opting out by sitting in the hallway — violated the Charter of Rights.
Zylberberg remembers being five years old in England and sitting outside his classroom listening to his friends say the Lord's Prayer.
"I know what sitting out in the hallway means when you're five years old. It means you've been bad," he said.
That memory stuck with the Sudbury lawyer when he became a father.
He and two other parents, among them a Jew, Muslim and a non-believer, filed a lawsuit in 1985 under the Charter of Rights, which was new at the time.
Three years later, in September 1988, they won a decision against the Sudbury school board which had the Lord's Prayer removed from all Ontario public schools.
"Today, probably to most people, it's understood that, of course you don't do that," he said of the prayer. "So I am surprised it lasted that long."
The debate over the separation of church and state continues today, with the proposal by the Quebec government to ban the wearing of religious symbols in public workplaces.
Zylberberg is disturbed about the direction the discussion has taken.
"I think it's unfortunate that the spirit that motivated us, which is one of inclusion, could be morphed into one that aims to do the opposite. One that aims to tell people of faith that they're not welcome," he said.
Of course, prayers are still said every day in Sudbury Catholic schools.
Education director Catherine McCullough says they are mandatory.
"It's not an option. It's in the bone," she said. "It's integrated in the way in which we teach our students."
McCullough says other Catholic boards in the province allow non-Catholic students to practice their own religion at school but that doesn't exclude them from prayers.