FaithWorld

Should Berlin let Muslim pupils pray at school?

A ruling by a Berlin court allowing a 16-year-old Muslim pupil to pray towards Mecca in a separate room at school has raised questions about the extent of religious freedom in Germany.  Some media, including the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, describe the ruling as a landmark case, saying it is the first time a German court has considered whether the right to practise religious beliefs should extend to schools.

Muslim man praying in BerlinThe case arose in 2007 when the head of a school in Berlin, which has a strong secular tradition, forbid a boy and his friends from kneeling on their jackets to pray where they could be seen by other pupils.

The school argued it was religiously “neutral” but the boy, whose mother is Turkish and father is a German who converted to Islam, decided to go to court.

And they won.

Judge Uwe Wegener of Berlin’s Administrative Court wrote: “The plaintiff credibly showed he feels a religious obligation to pray according to Islamic custom five times a day at specific times.”

In the ruling, which makes clear the boy must pray outside lesson times to avoid disruption, the court also said Germany’s constitution guaranteed an individual the right to manifest one’s belief — which includes praying.

Tips on reconciling Muslim practises with German schools

The German government and representatives of the country’s large Muslim community said on Thursday they had agreed a number of practical proposals to resolve conflicts between German schools and Muslim practises.

The government cannot legally enforce the proposals because, in Germany’s federal system, each of the country’s 16 states regulates education law.

GERMANY/Yet the proposals — agreed upon at a high-profile summit in Berlin aimed at boosting the integration of Germany’s Muslim residents — testify to an increasingly open and rational debate in Germany about Islam.

Berlin campaign for religion lessons unites faiths

Berliners on Sunday voted against introducing compulsory religion lessons in schools. Social Democrat Mayor Klaus Wowereit has welcomed the result as a victory for “togetherness” and common values for Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim or aetheist children.

Campaign posterFor details on the result, look at the Reuters story.

However, as Pro Reli leader Christoph Lehmann said, the campaign to boost the status of faith-based lessons in the German capital — a city with a long secular tradition — has put the subject firmly on the agenda and made it a talking point.

Celebrities and politicians, even conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel,have joined the call for religion lessons. Perhaps she was trying to make amends with members of her predominantly Catholic Christian Democrats (CDU) who were angry with her for criticising the Pope in the row over a Holocaust-denying bishop.

Religion versus ethics in Berlin

Koran studiesBerlin’s referendum on religion lessons in schools poses fundamental questions about how to foster inter-faith tolerance and the relationship between church and state in Germany, as Reuters reported.

The Pro Reli campaign wants to change the capital’s law to allow pupils to choose between faith-based religion lessons and an ethics course. Berlin, with its long secular tradition, is one of the only German states not to have compulsory religion lessons but a wider ethics course instead.

The main argument is whether children who spend hours at school learning about their own faith have a stronger moral foundation and end up being more tolerant of other religions than children who have a broader education in ethics.