They’ll be coming to lynch me after this column — it’s sure to cause a fuss with my Roman Catholic friends and family. But here goes: it’s time to remove crosses and other religious symbols from our schools.
I was raised a Catholic and went through the Christian Brothers’ school system. I received an excellent education, and hold my head high when I talk about St. Pat’s or Brother Rice. My fault was never with the religious part of the schooling. It was that boys went to one school and girls to another. When the denominational education controversy erupted in the 1990s, I spent a good half hour bending Brian Tobin’s ear on the subject, hearing his logic for changing the system, while he listened to my own experiences and defense of Catholic education.
On Sept. 2, 1997, more than 70 per cent of those who voted in the provincial referendum opted for change. That night, premier Tobin told us that a year later, “after a constitutional amendment has passed in both the legislature and the House of Commons, there will be no unidenominational schools, no interdenominational schools, no integrated schools … no Catholic, no Pentecostal schools … just one single school system for all of our children.”
A lot has changed since then, but I’m surprised it has taken almost 15 years for someone to suggest a cross on a school be taken down.
The Eastern School District will do just that after a parent sent a written complaint about the cross outside St. Matthew’s Elementary in St. John’s. The school board says it is acting on legal advice, that if the parent made a Charter of Rights complaint to the Human Rights Commission, the board would have to remove the cross.
The parent apparently felt the cross was an inappropriate symbol in a non-denominational, public education system. There are plenty of schools in this province adorned with crosses. I say take them all down.
And while we’re at it, let’s rename the schools that carry the names of saints.
St. Peter’s can become Mount Pearl Public School No. 1; Holy Heart might be Bonaventure Avenue High. Oh, wait, Bonaventure is a saint. Better call it St. John’s Public School Six. Several schools named after bishops would need new names, too.
And while we’re at it, for those who might be offended by the monarchy, maybe we should change Queen Elizabeth High to something else.
I found it hard to believe when I was told a few years ago that nativity scenes were not allowed to be displayed in certain schools; Santa, though, was just fine.
I guess, given what some would like to be the new norm, we’ll have to be careful of the gifts we give nieces and nephews, let alone boyfriends and girlfriends. Crosses on gold chains may soon be a no-no. Maybe they already are.
Soon, hospitals and nursing homes will have to remove their statues and crucifixes. They are public buildings. We wouldn’t want to offend anyone there, either.
Seriously, don’t we have enough to spend our sparse education dollars on without having to remove symbols that form part of a school’s history? We’re not talking swastikas here.
I know the Catholic Church has taken something of a beating in recent years, perhaps deservedly so, but we are a predominantly Christian province, and the schools that still carry that symbol of my faith do so because they always did. We don’t see them on newer schools. Religious tolerance works both ways.
The school board says it will deal with similar requests on a case-by-case basis. At a bare minimum, I’d suggest the entire school community be consulted before such decisions are made. If the majority wants the symbol removed, so be it. If not, leave well enough alone.
As for my opening suggestion about removing them all, I was kidding. I guess I’m just surprised there hasn’t been more of an uproar.
Gerry Phelan is a journalist and former broadcaster. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org