An appeals court in northern Germany has overturned a lower court ruling granting a Muslim student the right to pray in school. The court shared the view of the school that the act was disruptive.
The court placed social tranquility above religious freedom
The Berlin-Brandenburg appeals court on Thursday struck down a lower court decision, which had ruled that the 16-year-old student at a Berlin high school had the right to pray in school.
In its verdict, the appeals court found that the rights of parents, the religious freedom of others and, in particular, the dictate of school harmony overrode in this instance the right to an individual's expression of religious faith.
The chairman of Germany's Turkish Federation, Kenan Kolat, said he could live with the verdict, welcoming the fact that the court essentially put the right to an education above the right to express your religion.
Due to the fundamental nature of the issue, however, the court left open the path to a further appeal before the Federal Administrative Court.
Demonstrative prayer disruptive
The teenager, Yunus M. had originally filed charges against his school administration because it had banned him and seven other Muslim pupils from kneeling in the school hallway to pray.
Muslims are supposed to face Mecca and pray five times a day
The school lost that case, with the lower court deciding that Yunus had the right to pray on school property once a day. The court ruled that the act was not disruptive nor an infringement of the school's obligation to neutrality.
The school appealed the lower court decision, and following the argumentation of the school, the appeals court on Thursday overturned the original ruling.
The departmental director in charge of school affairs in the Berlin Senate, Ludger Pieper, agreed with the school administration and the appeals court ruling, saying that "Islamic ritual prayer has a demonstrative character and also serves as a social control."
Because school harmony would be disrupted, the Berlin city government said at the time a room would be made available to the students to shield them from other pupils.
'A good day for Berlin's schools'
The court said a prayer room was plausible, but for reasons of equality other confessions or interest groups would have to be given the same privilege, which would overstretch the school's capacity, and therefore, it was not necessary to provide space to Yunus M.
A good day for Berlin's schools, said Principal Burchardt
The school's lawyer, Margarete Muehl-Jaeckel, argued that the room was only used sporadically, namely just 14 times in the last two years.
Islam scholar, Tilman Nagel from the University of Goettingen, submitted a written statement saying that practicing Muslims were permitted to postpone their midday prayer until the afternoon, making it feasible for Yunus to pray after school at home.
School principal, Brigitte Burchardt, called the ruling "a good day for Berlin's schools." Conflicts and divisions among her school's students, who come from 29 different countries, would be avoided, she said.
Editor: Susan Houlton