Muslim, civil liberties groups challenge Quebec school prayer room ban in court

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MONTREAL — A civil rights organization and a national Muslim advocacy group are the latest to launch a legal challenge of Quebec's decree banning prayer rooms in public schools.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association are seeking a judicial review of the government decree on behalf of a plaintiff whose teenage son had sought a space to pray along with some other Muslim students at a Montreal-area high school last October.

The school provided a space as of January for about 20 to 30 boys and girls, but it was rescinded in May after the school began applying Education Minister Bernard Drainville's ban.

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Drainville has said the concept of prayer rooms runs counter to Quebec's policy of official secularism and his April 19 directive states that school space cannot be used for the purposes of religious practices such as open prayers.

The new rules came after reports of at least two Montreal-area schools permitting students to gather on school property for prayer.

The NCCM and the CCLA say the decree breaches students' rights, including the right to religious freedom and to equality as guaranteed by the Canadian and Quebec Charters of Rights and Freedom.

The two organizations want to see the decree declared invalid, but in the meantime, they are also seeking a stay on its application by the school until the case is heard on its merits.

The action filed in Quebec Superior Court in Montreal on Friday comes just over a week after several Muslim organizations also announced they were taking province to court over the prayer room ban, arguing it is discriminatory and violates the Charter rights to freedom of religion and association.

A spokeswoman for Drainville says there will be no comment on the most recent legal challenge.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2023.

The Canadian Press