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Indigenous ceremonies at B.C. school did not interfere with family’s religious beliefs, judge rules – The Lawyer’s Daily

by ahnationtalk on January 16, 202024 Views

January 16, 2020

A B.C. Supreme Court justice has ruled a smudging ceremony and a dance held at a public elementary school were an admirable effort to teach children about Indigenous beliefs and did not violate the Charter’s protections on freedom of religion.

As part of an effort to acquaint students with Indigenous culture and to promote a sense of belonging in Indigenous children, a Nuu-chah-nulth elder visited John Howitt Elementary School in Port Alberni and demonstrated the practice of smudging in September 2015. A few months later, an assembly at the school featured a hoop dance, in the midst of which the dancer said a prayer.

Candice Servatius, an evangelical Christian with two children at the school, argued both the smudging and the prayer interfered with the religious freedoms of herself and her children guaranteed by s. 2(a) of the Charter, because under their belief system they cannot participate in any “religious, spiritual or supernatural ceremonies” that are not part of their faith. She sought a declaration her rights had been violated and an order prohibiting similar events in the future, but Justice Douglas Thompson found she failed to establish either the smudging or the prayer said by the hoop dancer interfered with her or her children’s ability to act in accordance with their religious beliefs (Servatius v. Alberni School District No. 70 2020 BCSC 15).

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