Thursday, January 27, 2011

Good News!........Standing Firm on Religious Accommodation Pays Off

The question of religious accommodation sparks fierce debate and at its extreme, pits ultra-conservatives who believe that no accommodation should be offered against ultra-liberals who believe that freedom of religion is paramount and that accommodation is a fundamental right.

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.
Wow! That's quite a change.

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.


  1. Being a secular Jew myself, I consider sects like the Hasids somewhat fanatical. Some of those sects don't consider me to be Jewish! I know who I am, I choose a secular life and that's that. They seem happy with their way of life, so it's live and let live.

    If they're not, or weren't teaching French, I agree that's wrong because that cuts them off from mainstream society where 80% of the population, more or less, is French mother tongued. If one chooses to cut oneself off from 80% of the people, that's a personal choice, but this is an imposed, regimented curriculum that does not meet provincial standards and I myself question how well prepared these students will be to deal with the outside world.

    Part of the problem is they keep to a closed community. I don't believe it it myself, but part of the perception is if one mingles too much with "outsiders" (i.e., non-Jews, possibly including me!), one socializes with them, eats with them (hence part of the reason for the strictures of a kosher diet and way of life) dates them and marries them. Intermarriage is very heavily frowned upon leading to excommunication/ostracization. In some families the family treats those who intermarry as dead, including observing post-death rituals (a.k.a. shiva, a seven-day mourning ritual).

    Again, it's not the way I choose to observe Judaism, but they do. The State of Israel observes secular law, and mainstream Israelis have at times had clashes with these ultra orthodox sects, so it is an ongoing issue.

    As long as the curriculum set by government is being followed, my only PERSONAL objection to this way of life is the children barely seem to have lives if they're in one type of education or another from early morning until 7pm at night. When do they have time for play and recreation?

  2. What Canadian values? Feminism and socialism struck down the throats of all children, like we in Public schools. Taxpayers subsidizing leftist agenda?

    Worst yet is the Quebec schools with Quebecois nationalistic propaganda shoved down the throat of children.

  3. It's another example of applying the Golden Rule (he who has the gold makes the rules). I don't know why the Feds don't use it with Quebec. I think the ROC would be quite happy with the results.

  4. I've worked in the public school system in Quebec for years. Not much of a gain in the switch I'm afraid. One set of ethnocentric myths has only been replaced by another.
    Legitimized bullshit is still shit.

  5. This is hardly an issue of "reasonable accomodation". The Quebec society says "all our children need to be educated. Instead of each parent having to pay for their individual childrens education, we will all chip in to a fund and pick up the cost of education for all the children. This is important to a society based on meritocricy in that it gives access to education to all children regardless of their parents income or the value that parents place on their childs education."

    If the Hasidic schools are taking money, they are implicitly buying into the contract that says they must provide their charges with the education that the tax payer is paying for. Using those funds to pay for Talmudic studies instead is a diversion of the funds.

    Therefore it is a simple enforcement of an agreed contract. This is unrelated to forcing a middle eastern woman to unveil because their dressing differently offends only because it is different. This even though there is no problem with Quebecois parking his moto-niege out the front of a Lac-Saint-Jean Depanneur and buying a big bottle of Labatt 50 with a touk on his head, scarf across his mouth and the fur-lined hood of his Kanuk over the whole lot.

  6. Anon @ noon: "Not much of a gain in the switch [in the public school system]. What is that supposed to mean?

    Diogenes: Yes, I've learned that version of the Golden Rule myself, and Harper is mildly divesting his energies in Quebec for the sake of less than a dozen seats hence he's not scared with the "knife to the throat" scenario; furthermore, Quebec governments fears are being confirmed is shrinking percentage-wise, i.e., the number of seats in parliament is holding (should be falling) but mostly in Ontario, Alberta and B.C., the number of seats is increasing. Certainly for Ontairo this is justified as Ontario has been underrepresented forever! B.C. and Alberta have growing populations so their increased representation is justified.

    The only reason Quebec's representation cannot be cut is because they are constitutionally protected at 75 seats, even if their population drops. Had the 1992 federal referendum gone Quebec's way, they'd be guaranteed 25% of the seats forever. Thank G-d the population said a resounding "NO!" to Mulroney!

    Editor has written about this within recent months, and I see it as a good thing...for the rest of Canada, bad for Quebec and those looking to take Quebec for what they can get.

  7. Yes mississauga Guy,

    I am so glad that meech lake accord piece of crap was rejected. The rest of Canada and of course all allos and anglos in Quebec would have been royally screwed.

  8. Jarry Street, I've got news for you: Anglos and Alloes are already being royally screwed. This is why a federally driven political party putting Quebec in its place is necessary. Who represents Anglos and Alloes right now and for the last 40 years?

    Answer: Noooooooooobody! In 1989, a one-trick pony named Equality managed to put four members in the Assembly for one term, and cukoo bird Richard Holden abandoned ship eventually. What happened to its support the rest of the way? By 1994, the "other" Fab Four were no more, and haven't seen daylight since. Even Keith Henderson abandoned the sinking ship years ago.

    With a measly four memebers it was not enough to influence the Anglo plight, and the nearest thing to Anglo/Allo representation beyond this was the now-defunct lame duck Alliance Quebec. Now there isn't even that. What next?

  9. "Now there isn't even that. What next?"

    To a politically conscious group, the realization that they are denied political representation should lead only to revolution.
    When coercive means are used to marginalize a group the only way to regain this voice is through the threat of instability.

  10. To the mississauga guy:
    U are a "bad jew", yes a bad one. The good ones in Montreal are different. For one thing they mind their own business, second they don't interfere with our french issues. With a name like yours stick to Ontario: a place to shit, a place to go, onta ri a ri a ri o....
    Le Nouveau Quebec français.

  11. "Le Nouveau Quebec français"

    Which area are you talking about? Around here, we all speak English, and I'm not even in the West Island.

    "The good ones in Montreal are different. For one thing they mind their own business, second they don't interfere with our french issues"

    So a good Jew in Quebec is one that's compliant and feeble? Take a drive through our neighbourhoods and see if you can spot an Arret sign anywhere.

  12. "...and see if you can spot an Arret sign anywhere."

    Pourriez-vous nous indiquer la quartier en question?Vous aurez peut-être droit a une petite récompense.

    Johnny Deep (a.i.c)
    Agent d'informations

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  14. Editor, you don't quite got your facts right. The overwhelming majority of ultra-Orthodox girls do follow the Quebec curriculum and there are many groups other than the Belz. Back in 2008, one of the larger groups, the Skver's girls high school (in Outremont)ranked higher than Brebeuf, with a 100% pass rate and average mark of 82%. Their language of instruction - French (their third or fourth language (after Yiddish, English and Hebrew). As for the Belz, well before the agreement was struck with the Qc government, their high school scored a class average in Physics of 94.6% Speak with anyone knowledgeable - those boys studying Talmud are no academic slouches. And what exactly is the problem with the Outremont Hassids anyway? Their kids are pulling B&E's? they're selling nickle bags on the corner of Park and Bernard? Hey, these guys must be doing something right if they can afford their million dollar homes in Outremont. Live and let live. Oh, and BTW going back to those 2008 high school results: Guess which school came first out of some 600 schools in Qc and Canada History - Ecoles Musulmanes de Montreal. Go figure.