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Court upholds Berlin school’s ban on Muslim prayer

December 15, 2011

BERLIN

A decision by the German Federal Administrative Court allowing a Berlin school to ban Muslim students from praying on their lunch break is being viewed as a ruling on public religious expression and has been closely watched by members of different faiths.

Yunus Mitschele, an 18 year-old student at Diesterweg Gymnasium, brought his case to the court in Leipzig, but the ruling Nov. 30 prioritized the peaceful running of the school over students’ right to pray. The school had argued that differing views on the interpretation of the Quran had led to conflict and bullying among its students.

Chalid Durmosch, founder of Youth Light, an organization that works with Muslim children in Berlin, said he was disappointed with the decision. “The ruling is a sign that the educational opportunities for solving conflicts regarding German and Muslim issues have failed,” Durmosch said in an interview. “The fact that this case was even brought to court shows there remains a fear and skepticism toward Islam.”

The decision came after a legal battle spanning years. Mitschele first brought the school to court in 2007, after being told he could not perform his midday prayers. Initially, courts had ruled in Mitschele’s favor on grounds that religious freedom is a constitutional right in Germany, and the school made a room available for Mitschele to pray.

But in May 2010, the Berlin Administrative Appeals Tribunal decided that the school — located in one of Berlin’s most ethnically and culturally mixed neighborhoods — had such a diverse student body it was not possible to take all religious needs into consideration.

At the time, Muslim institutions in Germany expressed anger that they had not been consulted. “It is incomprehensible and prejudiced that Muslim prayer is viewed as a threat to peace in school and to therefore restrict the constitutionally-protected freedom of religion,” the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs said in 2010.

Judge Werner Neumann said that the federal court’s decision to uphold that ruling should, “not be generalized in the sense that the practice of ritual midday prayers by any Muslim pupil is not permitted,” and added that it was up to the school to decide if limiting religious freedom was really necessary to maintain a peaceful learning environment, the Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper reported.

Heike Krohn, a spokesperson for the Protestant Church in Berlin, said that schools were not a religion-free zone and it was important that the ruling was made over a specific case. “Religious expression in public is something guaranteed by the constitution and that right can’t be taken away even in schools,” Krohn said in an interview.

“This is very important for us, the Protestant Church … We have to trust that the court was correct in judging that in this case the prayer was too disruptive to be allowed,” Krohn said.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Berlin issued a statement saying that the ruling “did not establish a banishment of religion from schools and public settings.”

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