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Lord's Prayer in Sturgeon Heights School sparks national attention

A public school policy around morning prayers has St. Albert advocate speaking out
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A letter sent home to parents in September has some families bristling at the idea of saying the Lord's Prayer in the public school system, while the chair of the school board says they are just listening to the parents wants. Sturgeon Heights School has said the prayer since the 1970s.

A St. Albert public school policy around morning prayers is causing concern for some parents.

Earlier this month, a letter was sent home to parents of kids who attend Sturgeon Heights School informing them that designated classrooms will be set aside for staff to lead students in recitations of the Lord’s Prayer in the morning.

The letter, sent out by principal Shannon Requa, asked parents to respond and let the school know whether their child in the school will participate. If the parent decided not to respond, the child would not participate.

Luke Fevin, a St. Albert resident and founder of secular public education advocacy group Alberta Parents for Unbiased Public Inclusive Learning (A PUPIL), said he has heard from four families who are upset about the prayer being lead by the public school.

“In its most fundamental sense, it's wrong. It's ridiculous that in a multicultural public school, in a multicultural community, that we segregate small children into Christian prayers and everybody else, every morning.

“That is counter to everything the public schools are supposed to be about.”

Fevin's concerns made national news this month after he posted the school letter to Facebook.

Sturgeon Public board chair Terry Jewell said for around two minutes at the beginning of the day, children who want to say the Lord’s Prayer go to designated classrooms while kids who don’t want to go to other classrooms.

Jewell said the school has been saying the prayer since the 1970s when it opened and the majority of the feedback they get around the prayer is positive.

“The majority say we would like our kids to start the day with the Lord's Prayer.”

“As an elected trustee at Sturgeon, one of my jobs is to pay attention to the parents, which is what we are doing,” Jewell said.

Around a decade ago, Fevin sent his young daughter to Sturgeon Heights School and found that they were using the PA system to announce the Lord’s Prayer every morning. Fevin and his family were upset by the forced inclusion of the Christian prayer in their child’s morning school routine and challenged the school on it.

Fevin said the fallout from his pushback against the morning prayer caused his family to be ostracized and they eventually switched schools. Fevin said he is speaking out now for other families so they don’t have to go through what his family went through.

Now the school has switched to hosting the Lord’s Prayer in separate rooms rather than over the PA system and ended the prayers altogether for junior high students.

Fevin said the prayers violate the children’s right to freedom from religion.

“It's coercive. It stigmatizes non-prayers, it forces families to self-identify their religious beliefs – or lack of – and essentially what we have is a school in St. Albert which is 30 years, three decades, behind the rest of Canada in the matter of human rights. It’s appalling.”

Jewell said the prayers are included in the morning because parents want to have the prayers said and they are legally allowed to recite it in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

“The funny thing is that there's some weird idea in people's heads that public schools can’t say the Lord's Prayer and some people would have you believe that but it’s not true.”

Jennifer Henderson

About the Author: Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson is the editor of the St. Albert Gazette and has been with Great West Media since 2015
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