Private Swim Test for Muslims Girls Raises Questions of Accommodating Religious Beliefs

May 11, 2006

Source: Toronto Star

On May 11, 2006 the Toronto Star reported, "The decision to close a high school pool to give three Muslim girls a private swimming class is stoking debate over the place of faith in Quebec's public institutions. At issue is the practice known as 'reasonable accommodation' for religious views, one that's increasingly common in a city that's home to most of Quebec's immigrants. Parents say the decision by Commission Scolaire Marie-Victorin, with more that 40,000 students in 80 schools, risks encouraging 'segregation in the name of religion.' The board argues it is simply respecting provisions of a recent Supreme Court judgment on wearing Sikh kirpans (ceremonial daggers) in classrooms that set limits on restricting religious rights. The most recent chapter in the argument centres on a request from three Muslim students at Antoine-Brossard high school in the South Shore suburb of Brossard, who asked to be excused from swimming class because their religion rejects sharing a pool with men. The board demurred, saying children couldn't beg off the requirements, which are part of a physical education curriculum, but could take the swimming test needed to pass the course under special circumstances... Fouad Cheddadi, a Muslim whose children attend the school, told reporters this week, 'This is a decision that makes a lot of parents uncomfortable. The main goal of school is to provide secular instruction to children. It's a place where all cultures meet.'"