Friday, July 13, 2007

Prayer at Recess Likely to End Up In Court

A shift in the schedule of US schools to accommodate Muslims students’ prayers is being considered by some to be unconstitutional with the implication that the schools promote religion, reports the Christian Science Monitor.

During afternoon recess, at an elementary school on the outskirts of San Diego, some students go out to play, while others assemble in a room for prayers. This “special treatment” has raised a controversy with Constitutional overtones: Is the school unfairly promoting religion by accommodating Muslim students?

According to Pacific Justice Institute President Brad Dacus, the school’s policy “presumes that Christians are less religious and less inspired to worship and praise the Lord and come together”. He is asking the school district to set up special rooms where Christians can pray too. This outcry, and others like it from conservative commentators and attorneys, suggests that the matter may end up in court. The issue at hand is to what extent a public school can accommodate the special religious needs of some students while denying similar allowances for other students.

According to the Christian daily, about 100 students in the Arabic language programme at Carver Elementary School are given a 15-minute recess period in the afternoon and about an hour after lunch. Many of the students are Muslim and the school has revised its schedule so the students can pray at the specific times ordained by their religion, says attorney Brent North, who represents the school district. A teacher is present to watch the praying children but cannot lead or take part in the observance. He said Islam is one of the few religions that requires specificity of prayer obligations and denies that a new recess were added to address the religious needs of Muslim students. Akram Shami, a retired bank security manager who volunteers at the Islamic Centre of Southern California in Los Angeles, says that five daily prayers on scheduled times are an integral part of the Islamic faith. He said several students take momentary leaves of classes or wait until they get home to say all their prayers together, according to the faith.

According to the newspaper, various school districts in the US have faced dilemmas as the number of Muslims in the country has grown. More on the subject of prayer at recess.