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Muslim Prayer in School Sparks Controversy, Reopen School Prayer Debate

By    |   Monday, 24 Nov 2014 01:53 PM

From San Diego to Green Bay to Prince George’s County, Md., local districts in disparate communities have entered the national spotlight in recent years for allowing Muslim prayer in schools.

While the concepts behind the separation of church and state go back to the U.S. Constitution — a principle that applies to all public schools — giving students of different faiths the right to practice particular rituals has been a muddier issue.

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The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) has weighed in on the issue, ruling that such rituals as prayer are permissible during the public school day. The government agency’s policy states: “It has long been established that schools have the discretion to dismiss students to off-premises religious instruction, provided that schools do not encourage or discourage participation in such instruction or penalize students for attending or not attending.”

The USDE’s policy further states, “Schools may excuse students from class to remove a significant burden on their religious exercise, where doing so would not impose materials burdens on other students.”

While several schools have made concessions to Muslim students — some of whom pray five times a day at designated times — the local policy decisions have reignited the debate about prayer within public schools.

In the case of Green Bay, local school district officials made the decision in early 2012 to accommodate an influx of nearly 200 refugees from war-torn Somalia. Many of the children refugees practiced the Muslim faith. 

Green Bay school administrators said their decision had minimal impact on the school instruction day. But not everyone in the community was in favor of the district’s decision — including some members of other faiths.

“You might have to say, ‘Hey, those of you of the Christian faith — if you choose to observe during this time … you can do the same thing,” the Rev. Jon Westlund told the Christian Post. “Some kind of equity needs to be there.”

The Rev. Westlund at the time was senior pastor of Bay Ev. Covenant Church in Green Bay.

A school district in Maryland found itself in hot water for placing limitations on when Muslim students can pray during the school day. In January 2013, school administrators at Parkdale High School began allowing high-achieving students to pray up to eight minutes each day on campus. 

Several groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, took aim at the school’s restrictive actions.

“Public schools cannot prevent students from expressing religious faith while on school property,” Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, told the Huffington Post.

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From San Diego to Green Bay to Prince George’s County, Md., local districts in disparate communities have entered the national spotlight in recent years for allowing Muslim prayer in schools.
muslim, prayer, in, school, debate
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2014-53-24
Monday, 24 Nov 2014 01:53 PM
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