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School Sued Over “Cleansing Ritual”

Port Alberni, BC Port Alberni, BC

Parents are suing a school in British Columbia after it forced their children to take part in a religious “cleansing ritual” that was based on the beliefs of the tribes of the Pacific Northwest known as Nuu-chah-nulth.

LifeSiteNews is reporting on a petition that has been filed with the British Columbia Supreme Court in Nanaimo by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms in (JCCF.ca) on behalf of a parent who says the school subjected her child to a religious exercise without her permission. The petition is asking the court to grant protection of parental and conscience rights and to require the government to remain neutral in matters of religion.

The case began more than a year ago when Candice Servatius received a letter from the principal of John Howitt Elementary School (JHES) in Port Alberni, BC, where her two children attend, informing parents that the school would be hosting a “Traditional Nuu-chah-nulth Classroom/Student Cleansing." The ritual was to be performed by a “Nuu-chah-nulth Member” in the school’s classrooms. The letter claimed that the purpose of the ritual was to teach students about Nuu-chah-nulth culture and history. It gave no specific date for when the ritual would take place.

“Nuu-chah-nulth People believe strongly that 'Hii-Shuukish-Tsawalk' (everything is one; all is connected),” the letter describes. “Everything has a spirit and energy exists beyond the end of school one year and into the next. This will be our opportunity to learn about Nuu-chah-nulth Traditions and experience cleansing of energy from previous students in our classroom, previous energy in our classroom and cleanse our own spirits to allow GREAT new experiences to occur for all of us.”

It continues: “All participants will hold on to cedar branches (each student will feel the britstles of each branch to remind them that they are alive and well to embrace life and all that it offers) and/or “smudged” (smoke from Sage will be fanned over the body and spirit).”

The letter goes on to explain that “classroom furniture will also be cleansed to allow any previous energy from: falls, bad energy, bullying, accidents, sad circumstances, etc. to be released and ensure the room is safe for all and only good things will happen.”

After reading this letter, Mrs. Servatius was very concerned and went to the school the next day to discuss it. When she got there, she was surprised to find out that the ritual had already been imposed on her children.

“Her daughter explained that she had been coerced by the teacher to participate in the cleansing ritual,” LifeSite reports. “When Mrs. Servatius’ daughter expressed to her teacher that she did not want to participate, the teacher told Mrs. Servatius’ daughter that it would be ‘rude’ not to participate in the religious ritual and that ‘all’ the students were ‘required’ to participate.”

Not long after this, in January of 2016, Mrs. Servatius learned that a prayer based on Aboriginal spirituality had been performed at a school assembly which explicitly referenced an “unspecified god.” Once again, the school did not notify parents.

The school district is denying that these ceremonies and prayers were violating the religious freedom of Mrs. Servatius and her children and claims they were merely “cultural activities.”

However, they did agree that the school could  have made it more clear that student participation in the cultural ceremonies was optional for students, CBCNews reports, even though Mrs. Servatius' child was specifically told that it was a requirement.

"The School District does not agree that either of the activities were impermissible, but does agree, with respect to the cleansing, that it could have been made clearer to students and parents the voluntary nature of participation and that students were free to opt out."

They have since apologized to the Servatius children, but the family has decided to take legal action to prevent the school from engaging in these kinds of activities in the future.

As a result, the Justice Centre filed a Petition with the BC Supreme Court in Nanaimo, BC seeking a declaration that the actions of School District 70 in forcing her children to participate in a religious ritual and be subject to religious prayer have violated her and her children’s religious freedom. In addition, Mrs. Servatius is seeking a court order to prevent the School District 70 from engaging in similar actions in the future.

“This case is profoundly important. This is by no means the only instance of government authorities brazenly challenging the constitutional rights of parents and the rule of law,” stated Calgary lawyer and Justice Centre president John Carpay. “Prayer and religious ceremonies have been illegal in public schools in Canada for over 25 years.”

He added: “But it appears School District 70 is more preoccupied with political correctness than the law.”

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