Skip to content

Quebec judge rejects request from Muslim group to suspend ban on school prayer rooms

MONTREAL — A Quebec Superior Court judge on Wednesday denied a request by a Muslim advocacy group and a civil liberties organization to suspend the province's ban on prayer rooms in public schools.
The Quebec Superior Court is seen in Montreal, Wednesday, March 27, 2019. A Quebec Superior Court judge has denied a request to suspend the province's ban on prayer room spaces in public schools. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

MONTREAL — A Quebec Superior Court judge on Wednesday denied a request by a Muslim advocacy group and a civil liberties organization to suspend the province's ban on prayer rooms in public schools.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the National Council of Canadian Muslims had argued that the ban was causing irreparable harm to Muslim students and needed to be suspended immediately. Muslim students couldn't wait while the wider legal challenge made its way through the courts, they said. 

Justice Lukasz Granosik agreed that the ban violates religious freedom and could cause irreparable harm to Muslim students. But he said the groups hadn't demonstrated the need for urgency because they only filed their request for a stay in June when the ban went into effect May 3.

"The delay is not explained in the proceedings and remains inexplicable," he told the court Wednesday.

Following news reports about at least two Montreal-area schools allowing Muslim students to pray, Education Minister Bernard Drainville banned schools from offering dedicated prayers spaces, citing the province's policy on institutional secularism. 

In response, the Muslim and civil liberties groups filed a lawsuit on behalf of a 16-year-old student at a Montreal-area high school, identified as "X" in court documents. The Muslim student, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, had been given space to pray at lunchtime but lost that accommodation after the ban went into effect.

Granosik said it's not clear that the student would be immediately harmed by the rule because classes had ended and students were only required to be at school to write exams.

The judge said there are "serious questions" about the constitutionality of the ban, but he added that those would be settled during a full trial. He said the constitutional violations were not sufficiently clear for him to suspend the rule so early in the legal challenge.

"There is a head-on collision regarding the use of public space, between the prohibition of overt prayer and religious practice and the secular status of this space; it is a given that the infringement of religious freedom continues," he said.

During a court hearing on Tuesday, a government lawyer argued that students were able to leave school to conduct the lunch-hour prayer for which space had previously been provided.

In announcing the prayer space ban, Drainville had said that students would still be allowed to pray discreetly and silently.

But the two groups argued in court Tuesday that Muslim prayers require physical action and that students had felt excluded and demeaned for attempting to pray on school property.

Stephen Brown, CEO of the Muslim group, said his organization would review the decision. 

"This isn't the end," he said in an interview. "We've been working really hard with our legal team in order to present the strongest case possible. We're going to be looking at what are all the things that we can do in order to take this forward and try to gain justice for those whose fundamental rights have been violated by this decree."

A spokeswoman for Drainville declined to comment on the ruling, citing the court process.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 14, 2023.

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks