German educators are hotly debating a recent court decision that upheld a Muslim student's right to pray on school property. He'll be able to pray on school grounds but not during class time.
In response to a recent court decision that said a Berlin high school must provide a Muslim student with a prayer room, a debate has flared up that pits religious freedom against a German law to keep public institutions religion-neutral.
Berlin Senator for Education Juergen Zoellner defended his decision not to contest the court's decision. The state expects the "place of education, the school, to act neutrally," Zoellner told RBB Inforadio.
He was afraid any action could be perceived as "trying to influence the content" of the legal case, which is still awaiting a second phase.
Law vs. neutrality
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On March 10, 2008, in expedited proceedings, a Berlin administrative court said the Diesterweg Upper School must provide a 14-year-old Muslim student with a space to perform his daily prayers. The prayers were to take place outside of class time, but still on school grounds.
The ruling from the expedited proceedings is a stopgap decision, until the full court hearing takes place. A date for full proceedings has not yet been set.
According to the court, the Muslim student sought the ruling because his religion requires him to pray five times a day at specific times. Yet the school had not allowed him to pray, citing its constitutional neutrality law, which stops the state from identifying with any given religion in a public institution.
The judge, however, cited German Basic Law, which allows for freedom of religion. This basic right doesn't only apply to internal freedom, but to external freedom, the justice decided. This includes the freedom to pray, including Muslim prayer.
Educators chastise senator
Zoellner's hands-off attitude was strongly attacked by some German educators.
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"I will not allow prayer in school, despite everything," Gerhard Raehme, the principal of the Carl-von-Ossietzky Upper School in Berlin told the Tagesspiegel newspaper.
Zoellner's decision not to contest the court ruling was a wrong one, Raehme added. He warned that the case could set off a series of copycat cases leading Muslim youths around the country to seek the right to pray in school.
"After the Easter break we might see a strong increase in demand for such prayer rooms in schools" Rose-Marie Seggelke told Tagesspiegel. "It could become problematic if rival school groups abuse the topic."