Not too long ago it was common practice to recite the Lord’s Prayer in schoolrooms across Canada.
Since the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was instituted in 1982, the Lord’s Prayer has increasingly come under scrutiny, especially when it comes to public spaces.
Has the Lord’s Prayer been banned in schools in Canada?
In Ontario, it has been declared unconstitutional by the courts and as a result, it’s not supposed to be recited in Ontario schools.
In the 1988 case Zylberberg v. Sudbury Board of Education, the Ontario appeal court found that the Lord’s Prayer violated freedom of religion, because it imposed “religious practices of the majority.”
In the 1980’s all schools in Sudbury opened the school day with the national anthem and the Lord’s Prayer. Certain schools even recited passages from the bible.
Students were allowed to be excused from the prayer recital and were not required to take part.
How has the Ontario decision affected other provinces and territories?
Although the Ontario Court of Appeal made the decision, it affected most other provinces and territories; as well whose courts have also ruled that prayer in school violates the charter.
For example, in Alberta a 2009 decision sided with the Ontario Court of Appeal and declared that “the state cannot by law directly compel religious belief or practice…” and therefore prayer in school was declared unconstitutional in Alberta.
Before the decision, Alberta was one of two provinces – Saskatchewan being the other – to still hold on to the Lord’s Prayer in school. Both of these provinces negotiated a constitutional provision that allowed them to keep religiosity in schools.
However, schools in both provinces have gradually dropped the recitation of the Lord's Prayer. Often, this is because school boards decide not to spend scarce funds on contesting complaints about the Lord's Prayer before human rights tribunals, preferring to spend their funding on students and classrooms.
Possible challenge in the future?
Prayer in school remains a contentious issue in Canada. It’s possible that this issue will be revisited again through the courts in the future.
Zylberberg v. Sudbury Board of Education
Lord's Prayer banned 25 years ago after Sudbury protest
Three Alberta schools ditch Lord's Prayer