Should Students be Exempted from Classes due to Religious Reasons?

by TheRedDumpling on September 11, 2016 - 6:37pm

Modern Education and religion can often lead to conflicting ideas which can lead to tensions between parents and a school board. The line between religious accommodation and fairness is often murky and it's hard to come to a definite conclusion to make sure all parties are appeased. In the case of certain school boards in the Greater Toronto area, there have been conflicts on whether or not Muslim students should be exempted from art or music classes due to these classes not conforming to Islamic religious beliefs. The school board has attempted to reach an accommodation with the parents of these children, but is quite reluctant on giving a full class exemption to these students. The school boards say that these classes are part of the curricula for everyone, and therefore exempting students from these classes would be unfair. All students are graded the same and take the same course load, so it would be unfair to exempt a certain group. Parents on the other hand say that these classes contradict with their religious beliefs. Music for instance, is forbidden by Islamic religion, and they cannot take part in the creation of it or listen to it. Schools have offered accommodations such as students in art classes drawing shapes instead of human figures, but this is not a full exemption. Therefore conflict and outrage has arisen due to these conflicting points of view as the line between religious freedom and equal conditioning must be found.

            Both sides of the argument have their own valid moral claims as to what is right and wrong. The School board fines that 'Education should always place students on an equal footing' while the parents find that 'Religious rights and freedoms should always be respected'. From the school board's point of view, treating certain students differently would not be fair to the entire student body. While the school board understands the importance of religious freedoms, a sense of equality must be retained. They board has accommodated the students within their classes, by giving them different work in order to accommodate for what their religion considers "haram". However full exemption from a class would undermine the equality of the students, and the system would not work if a group was exempted from an obligatory class. As all classes are weighted, an Islamic person who is bad at music can have that entire course and grade excluded from his report card. These students might have failed their year if they had not been exempted from music, but certain students however are given this luxury of dropping the class.

            The parents believe, however, that 'Religious rights and freedoms should always be respected'. They believe that students should be exempted from said classes as it conflicts with their religious beliefs. In our nation, people have the freedom to practice whatever belief they chose, and the government often attempts to accommodate for these religious rights or rules. Some accommodations however are not enough, and their religious beliefs are still infringed upon. For instance, when the school board recommended that these students simply clap their hands instead of playing an instrument, parents claimed that this would still infringe on their beliefs. Their religion believes that the student should not partake in the creation of music or listen to music. Exemption from the class would be expected to fully respect the child's freedom of belief.

            While religious freedom is important and we should attempt to accommodate people's religion as much as we can, we shouldn't undermine the fairness and equality of our education system. These children are being brought to schools where there is religious secularism, where anyone can practice whatever they believe in but it is not prevalent in the education system. Exempting a certain group completely would be unfair to all the other students who are Christian, Jewish, Buddhist or following any other religion (Also includes those who do not practice any religion). A student that fails or passes music will have their mark influence the rest of their report card (they might fail and not sufficient credits to graduate). If a student is exempted, this factor is gone from their academic performance, a factor which could influence whether a student passes or fails the year. As a required class, exempting students from this class would demonstrate an inequality of condition in a system where everyone should be equally graded.  Given all that has transpired however, the question still remains as to where the line between religious freedom and equality lies?


Work Cited

Alphonso, Caroline. "Toronto-area schools to allow religion based class exemptions". The Globe and Mail, 6 Sept. 2016.


The subject of your article is really captivating and the article as a whole is well written. I agree with you that all students should have equality as to how they are graded. Religious freedom is very important however, there is just so much society can do to make education neutral religiously, especially, in an educational system where religion is already fairly omitted in a class curriculum. The teachers and school board are already trying to accommodate these children as much as possible without creating an inequality between them and the rest of the students. Every child needs to pass a certain amount of classes in order to graduate and giving exceptions to certain students would simply be unfair regardless of the circumstances. In my opinion, either every student attends the class or no one attends the class at all, it's all about equality. Will our educational system ever conform to everyone's standards?

You have a really interesting topic and your article brings up some interesting points which is why I am writing. In my opinion, the school board should try a different approach at compensating for the strong believers of religion. For this instance, instead of offering them music classes, offer these students a different class that doesn't involve anything that goes against their religion, like cooking class (that was the first thing that came to my mind). Obviously music and cooking are different subjects but cooking is seen as a form of art so it could pass. At the same time tough, these religious people have to understand that being exempted from a class would be unfair for those who are forced to take a class because their curriculum requires it. What are some other alternatives that the school board could put into place in order to appease both the religious students and the regular students?

I value both equality and freedom of belief highly, and thus believe that all students should have equal treatment but I also believe a sort of compromise should be found so that the curriculum does not encroach on any religious beliefs. I believe the arts classes are present in our education as a way to positively develop our creativity but there are other things that could be taught instead of music, dance or painting that are still artistic. A woodworking class, mechanics class, or even smithing class would serve to develop our creativity very well, as well as a cooking class (as another News Activist mentioned).

The question now is how the students would be equally dispersed throughout these courses. If the students could rank which classes they wanted most in order to place most of the students in their preferred classes, than the Islamic students, for example, would also need to rank the traditional art classes which means they could possibly end up in those courses, depending on how the students are assigned their courses and unless the students with religious particularities were prioritized. The encroachment issue and equality issue would thus still be possible even after many alternative courses have been added to the curriculum.

Another possible solution would be to abolish the arts classes but this could probably cause a lack of creative development for those whose families cannot afford extra-curricular artistic lessons. For others these lessons could be taken as a replacement to develop the students' creativity. This would allow for students to have a slightly more personalized education although at extra cost, as these kinds of lessons are rarely free of charge, while the students with religious requirements could simply participate in extra-curricular activities that stimulated their creativity without causing any religious offenses. Do you believe that this is a feasible solution?