Opinion: “Free societies tolerate public expressions of faith, including Muslims praying in a park”

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On July 2, a controversy erupted over a group of Muslims praying in public at the Parc Safari zoo in Hemmingford, Quebec. According to one of the zoo’s spokespersons, the Muslims didn’t solicit other visitors, were not disrupting other guests or animals, and didn’t block any paths.

Nonetheless, some individuals objected to these Muslims praying in public after a video of their activities was posted on Facebook. Commentators posted statements like: “Can you just do this in your living room and not impose it on me please!” and “Go live your faith in your mosques, outside no one is interested.” Some went so far as to call for a boycott of the zoo.

Parc Safari president Jean-Pierre Ranger responded laudably to these comments. Having operated the zoo for the better part of 45 years, he said he was not about to change how he runs his business: “I’m very proud of what Parc Safari stands for and nobody is going to tell us how to behave, whether they’re Muslim or any other faith, or those do-gooders that think they can run the world.”

Yet, it’s troubling that some individuals fail to understand that a free society allows public expression of religious faith. The people who would like the government to ban strong criticism of Islam exhibit similar misunderstandings. While these two groups may have different reasons for wanting to limit expression, both are animated by a desire to restrict freedoms that Canadians enjoy.