UK Muslim student loses court case against school banning her from praying

UK Muslim student loses court case against school banning her from praying

There is no legal requirement for schools in England to provide pupils with a time or place to pray. This is the meaning of a highly anticipated judgment on Tuesday April 16. The British and many national media have become passionate about a lawsuit filed by a student at her school, the Michaela Community School, located in Wembley, a district of north London. The complainant, a Muslim, wanted to challenge the ban, promulgated last year, on “the performance of prayer rituals” within the establishment. A decision following the establishment of prayer groups in the school yard by Muslim students.


The student indicated during the January hearings that this ban had “fundamentally changed” his perception “to be Muslim in this country” and “this type of discrimination makes religious minorities feel excluded from society”. His lawyers argued that the school's refusal constituted “a violation of his right to freedom to manifest his religious beliefs, protected by section 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights ». They also believed that Muslims were “indirectly discriminated against”.

While there is no legal obligation for schools to provide prayer time and rooms, educational establishments across the country feared that a ruling in favor of the complainant student would push them to review this situation. Some schools in fact reserve a space for students to pray.

Interest in this case was also fueled by the reputation of this private contract school and its director Katharine Birbalsingh. Created by him in 2014 in a disadvantaged area with a very large ethnic minority, the Michaela Community School has been ranked for two years as the English school having made the most significant progress for its students. Their grades for the equivalent of the Brevet and Baccalaureate are much higher than the national average, including for disadvantaged students.

His recipe? A very strict regulation, which she informs parents about before registering their children: ban on speaking in the corridors, uniform, allocation of detention hours for the slightest deviation, vegetarian meals for all to allow students to share their lunch and no prayer room in order to avoid divisions. His perception “secular but respectful” claims in his eyes that “all religions and races make the sacrifices necessary to allow our school to flourish”as she recalled in a text released Tuesday April 16 after the judgment.

An int“proportionate” erdiction

A few hours earlier, the High Court of Justice had in fact rejected the plaintiff's arguments and ruled in favor of the school. The judge described the ban as “proportionate”, especially since it allows “protect and promote the ethics of the school”. Indeed, “certain external signs of religious belief are authorized at school and the ban does not prevent Muslim students from manifesting their religion through prayer, since they are free to do so outside of class hours.”

The ban does not seem to have been badly received by Muslim families, who represent 50% of students, since it has not led, at this stage, to any people leaving the school. Even the student who initiated the lawsuit wanted to stay in the establishment. Finally, the judge considered that authorizing such collective prayers would reintroduce “the risk of intimidation against Muslim students who do not wish to pray or who could be considered less observant”facts observed last year by school staff.

The head of education at the Church of England applauded the verdict. “This case does not appear to be about banning school prayer, but about the day-to-day decisions of a particular school in its own circumstances. » To his eyes, “the heads of establishment and the management bodies of the different schools are in the best position” to decide their policy on religious matters.

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