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Germany’s leftist school teachers are breathing a tremendous sigh of relief – at least for the moment – due to a court ruling last week that forbids a Muslim student from praying in his Berlin school. German leftists, who used multiculturalism to get Christianity out of the public schools, were relieved Leipzig’s federal administrative court prevented Islam from filling the vacuum they created when it decreed the school had a right to prevent students from performing the Muslim mid-day prayer ritual, since it could disturb school peace.
“This is not a verdict against Islam,” stated Der Spiegel, Germany’s largest news publication, in hailing the decision. “It is a verdict for the sensible separation of state and religion.”
The ruling’s only drawback, however, was that the court stressed its decision applied only to this one school and not to the whole country.
The events leading to the anti-prayer legal ruling actually began in November, 2007, when a Muslim student, Yunus Mitschele, who was then 14, knelt down in a school corridor during a school break along with seven other Muslim students and began to pray towards Mecca, while several other “astonished” students looked on. A teacher fetched the school’s principal, Brigitte Burchardt, who waited until the prayer was finished to speak to the students, telling them, as one German newspaper reported, that “it is perhaps not a good idea what they are doing there…that church and state are largely separate…and about how it would affect other students.” Burchardt also forbid a repetition.
Afterwards, the principal spoke with the students’ parents, since she feared such a demonstrative prayer display could endanger the peace in the multicultural school. The school in question, the Diesterweg Gymnasium, an academic high school for students going on to post-secondary studies, contains students representing 29 different nationalities and five major world religions, including different strains of Islam. The German newspaper Die Welt reports that in the past this religious diversity “has lead to conflicts, and therefore the school administration had to intervene” in this case.
Burchardt came to an understanding with seven of the Muslim students and their parents; but Mitschele’s father, a German convert to Islam, would not accept her prayer prohibition and took the matter to court. In 2008, he obtained a temporary order from a lower Berlin court that would allow his son to perform his prayers once a day at school but only during a break.
“He (Yunus) was the first student in Germany to demand the right to conduct his prayers at school,” Spiegel stated.
Mitschele returned to court in 2009 to have his right to pray in school confirmed, basing his claim on the fact religious freedom is guaranteed in the German constitution. Since observant Muslims pray five times a day, he would have to pray during school hours, it was argued. In September of that year, the court agreed Mitschele did have this constitutional right and therefore should be allowed to pray in school. After the ruling, the Diesterweg Gymnasium allotted Mitschele a prayer room, although the court “did not demand it.”
But one German journalist, writing in May, 2010, wondered how important praying really was to Mitschele, since, in the eight months after the ruling, he had used this prayer room a grand total of only 14 times. In his defense, Mitschele says he couldn’t always find a teacher with a key to the room, which appears rather odd. After all, why would the school take the trouble to provide him with a prayer room, especially after this case had received so much media attention, and then not ensure access? It also appears neither the court nor the German media received a complaint from him or his father regarding his inablity to perform this supposedly all-important mid-day prayer, especially after they had gone to so much trouble to obtain this right.
This leads one to wonder whether the whole Diesterweg Gymnasium affair was simply a provocation, taking after the movement in Europe to bring Islam out of the mosques and into the public sphere. Public spaces, including whole streets, have been taken over in European cities for prayer by kneeling Muslims. These public demonstrations are not so much about piety, but rather more about establishing a dominant position for Islam in European societies by visibly occupying their public areas.
Public schools would be a tempting, and important, target in this drive, since in schools it would also be about the hearts and minds of children. But in Mitschele’s case, once the value gained by the visibility of his praying in the school’s public space, the hallway, was lost by the assignment of a prayer room, his interest in the mid-day prayer may have waned correspondingly.
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