Muslim pupil not allowed to pray at German school

Last Updated: Thu, May 27, 2010 17:10 hrs

A Berlin pupil does not have the right to perform 'namaz', Islamic prayer rituals, at school, an appeals court in the German capital ruled Thursday.

In a decision that overturned a lower court ruling, the appeals court said that a curtailing of the teenager's right to religious freedom was justified as it would protect the constitutional rights of other pupils and their parents.

Those rights include freedom of belief and entitlement to a calm educational environment, it said.

Yunus, a 16-year-old Berlin pupil, had initially been granted the right to pray once a day, during a break. However, the appeals court considered that ruling to endanger peaceful relations at the school.

A Berlin Senate official had earlier told the court that 'the Islamic prayer ritual has a demonstrative character and serves as social control'.

He also argued that there were practical difficulties, as the boy was entitled to a private room to pray in.

The court heard that the high school features pupils from 29 different countries, who often argue about religious mores such as the wearing of headscarves and fasting rituals.

The presiding judge said she detected a serious potential for conflict, adding that this justified assigning the pupil a separate room to pray in. But that would in turn lead to another issue, as such privacy could not be extended to all pupils.

'With the multitude of religious denominations, that would burst the capacities of the school,' the judge ruled.

The school's lawyer had also argued that the boy only used the room 'sporadically' - just 14 times in the past two years.

But Yunus said that teachers often would not open the room for him. His lawyer argued that the deeply religious teenager prayed five times a day.

While the court did not rule in Yunus' favour, it did recognise that he took his religious duties seriously.

'This is a good day for the Berlin school,' school director Brigitte Burchardt said after the verdict, adding that the decision reduced the potential for conflict.

The teenager has the option of further appealing the verdict in a federal court.