The federal administrative court in Leipzig had ruled last week that a student does not have an automatic right to pray at school. This decision brings to an end a four-year legal case, which was brought forward by Yunus M., a Muslim pupil at a Berlin school. In November 2007, after having prayed according to Islamic rites with seven other Muslim pupils in a school corridor during their break, Yunus M. was told by the head teacher that prayer was not allowed on the school grounds. With a diverse range of students of more than 30 nationalities and most major religions, the head teacher feared that allowing specific prayer rituals could harm the peaceful running of the school. Insisting on his right to religious freedom, however, Yunus M. filed a lawsuit and, initially, won his case in front of a regional court in 2009. The school appealed and the ruling was then overturned in May 2010.
While last week’s court decision banned Muslim prayers from a specific school in Berlin, the judges stressed that this was not a ruling that banned all forms of prayer at school. The decision to ban prayer needs to be made on a case by case basis and schools must decide whether it is necessary to restrict their pupils’ right to religious freedom and expression in order to keep the peace at their school.
The ruling and its consequences are closely watched and could echo nationwide, with schools following the Berlin ban and, thus, ending years of a flexible approach to Muslim prayers.