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men praying in mosque
One of the pillars of Islam is prayer carried out five times per dayImage: AP

Room for prayer?

May 27, 2010

The freedom to choose a religion is enshrined in the German constitution. But what has been less clear is how much freedom one has to express one's religion in a public space.


A German appeals court decides Thursday on whether a 16-year-old Berlin boy will continue to be allowed space and time to pray in between classes at his public school.

In September, a German constitutional court decided that the high school attended by the teenager, identified only as Yunus M., had a right to pray during school hours as long as it did not cause a disturbance. Yunus, a devout Muslim, had argued that his religious obligation to pray at set times five times a day sometimes overlapped with school hours, particularly during the winter when days are shorter. Before the case entered the courts, he had been praying during class breaks by kneeling on his jacket, laid out in a school hallway.

The Berlin administrative court then ordered Diesterweg High School, in Berlin's Wedding district, to provide him with a room outside of class for ten minutes a day. The court said that to bar the student from praying at school would violate his right to religious freedom.

The education authorities appealed the decision, and the court's final ruling is expected to come on Thursday.

Motives questioned

The school's principal, Brigitte Burchardt, told Deutschlandfunk radio that the requirement to have a prayer room had damaged the school's ability to operate peacefully as well as its religious neutrality.

"We have all major and minor religions, as well as people who are not members of any religion, and all worldviews in our school. You have to understand that," Burchardt said. "And in addition, I have to protect the interests of those that say they don't want to be confronted with this. A school is a public space, and perhaps also for some Muslims, a protected space."

Burchardt said that tensions between girls who wear headscarves and those who don't had intensified over the ruling, with arguments breaking out over who was the better Muslim.

The Berlin City Council's Education Department has also made it clear that it doubts Yunus M.'s religious conviction. In a background conversation with reporters, it said the Diesterweg High School's prayer room has only been used five times in the past six months.

Editor: Rob Turner

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