Thursday, January 27, 2011
Good News!........Standing Firm on Religious Accommodation Pays Off
Most Canadian's are middle-of-the-roaders, believing that reasonable accommodations are fair as long as they don't violate Canadian values. It's an eminently reasonable position and reflects the common good sense and fairness that is the hallmark of Canadian society.
And so it is, that the kirpan represents a contentious issue among those who are in the middle, (those on the extreme ends of the debate have long established their positions) who rightfully fret over the dilemma of whether or not to provide the accommodation. There is room for difference of opinion and fair debate, even among those who are not dogmatic.
But there are some accommodations that all Canadians should object to, accommodations that are in direct contradiction to Canadian values of equality, respect and fairness.
In Quebec, the Hasidic community, a 10,000 member sect of fundamentalist Jews has been systematically refusing to educate their children in accordance with minimum standards as designated by the education department.
It isn't a case of minor differences, the Hasids impose upon their children a regimen of up to 35 hours per week of religious study, leaving just six hours to accommodate the three R's and all the other basic subjects.
I'm sure that most Canadians would agree (perhaps not the Montreal Gazette Editorial board) that an average of just one hour a day for French, English, math and science is just not 'kosher.' Many might argue that such a situation can easily be considered child neglect or abuse.
The Hasids may disagree, but Canadians have long accepted that the government can impose compulsory schooling for both boys and girls as well a syllabus that both public and private schools must abide by.
The Quebec government has been aware of the academic 'problem' in Hasidic schools for years, but has treaded lightly, fearful of being accused of antisemitism.
Polite attempts by the government to prod the schools into any sort of compliance has failed miserably, with the Hasids employing legal delaying actions as well as threatening the government that the communities would up and leave the province, casting the aspersion that Quebec is intolerant. And so the stalemate has endured for years, up until last year when the government found its backbone and initiated legal proceedings.
The ongoing debate over accommodations and language has cast the Hasids directly into the media spotlight and the press has been up in arms over the fact that the Hasids don't teach French in their schools with lessons provided in Hebrew, Yiddish and English exclusively, much to the chagrin of the you-know-whos.
And so last year, emboldened by a of dose of language 'Dutch Courage' the government moved to have the school's public funding withdrawn and in some cases, the licenses revoked.
The Hasids reacted as they always have, by stonewalling and threatening legal action. But alas for them, these tactics did not work.
Faced with the very real possibility of having their school de-funded, a blow that would effectively close the institutions, the Hasids in one school did the impossible.
Instead of fighting, they decided to switch. They decided to comply. Amazing!
After consulting their spiritual leader in Jerusalem, who gave his blessing to their plans to integrate, the Belz Hassidic community, which runs the religious school, undertook measures to fall in line with the education department's demands.
The school enacted the teaching of French from the earliest grades on and extended classes until 6:45PM to make room for the other mandatory subjects, hitherto ignored or given short shrift.
Unqualified teachers were replaced by qualified French teachers able to teach the standard curriculum.
Another massive concession was the school's commitment to teach science. As you know fundamentalist schools (of all religious stripes) have somewhat of a problem with this.
The changes at the school are epic, changes that the school is actually quite proud of.
"To integrate, we need to be able to communicate with the man in the street and in the stores" noted one school official.
If there are lessons to be learned it is that sometimes a government needs to stand up and just say "NO"
In this case the Hasids, in the face of a committed government position, decided that it was time to change and meet the government half-way.
The community will always remain devoutly Hasidic, but perhaps better educated and better able to function in a French Quebec. That is basically all the education department demanded.
Everyone is a winner.
It shows that religious communities can make concessions without destroying their beliefs.
If the government remains firm with the Sikhs over the kirpan, it's only a matter of time before that community accepts that compromise is necessary and that they cannot wear the dagger in certain public situations.
When they do comply, they will find that their religious piety hasn't been affected, they will remain Sikhs who venerate God in their own way. It will be a change, but a small one and eventually it will be no big deal.
Nothing is written in stone, religious customs can and do evolve, but sometimes a push is needed. Those liberals who advocate in favour of the kirpan in public are enablers who delay the inevitable integration of Sikhs in mainstream society.
If there is a moral to this story, it is "Just say No"
Like a child who refuses to eat his dinner and is faced with the same plate at each subsequent meal by parents who are even more stubborn, eventually the child eats. It's called good parenting.
Ultra-religious communities cannot maintain certain practices and remain good citizens. Our society is open and pluralistic, but there are limits which must be defended if our societal values are to be protected.
It doesn't mean that we want to impose secularism upon the devout, not by a longshot. Nobody is asking Sikhs or Hasids to abandon their faith.
We are ready to compromise and accommodate, but compromise is a value that these communities have to adopt as well.
Remaining firm and upholding the shared beliefs that make us Canadian is a noble enterprise. The lesson that we learned in the above story is that they ultra-religious communities can also can evolve to share those values, while remaining true to their core beliefs.
Let us not fall into the liberal trap that says that we must accommodate at all costs.
It's too expensive a price to pay.
Posted by Editor on 1/27/2011 12:01:00 AM