RELIGION AND PRAYER IN U.S. PUBLIC SCHOOLS
When most North Americans think of prayer in the public school
system, they usually consider:
That may be true for Christians and
followers of many other religions. Their religion
allows them to pray at random times during the school day and through the week.
But Muslims represent a special case. They are expected to pray at
specific times each day.
Muslim prayers are one of the duties described in the Five Pillars of Islam. The second pillar is the performance of the salat (prayer) five times a day,
whenever possible. This is recited while orienting
one's body towards Mecca. 1 It is done in the morning, at noon, mid-afternoon, after sunset
and just before sleeping. The noon-hour prayer may happen during lunch hour.
More often, it will conflict with classroom time. The timing of afternoon prayer
varies by many hours during the year, and might also interfere with classes. 2 Industries, offices, commercial establishments, etc. present
problems. Some have attempted to accommodate the religious practices of their
Muslim employees by dedicating a space in their building for prayers. 3,4
Conflicts over accommodating Muslim students -- 2000-AUG to now:
|2000-AUG: CA: Anaheim, CA: A father complained that he was denied a
request that his son be allowed to leave school after the fourth period each
Friday for prayer in the mosque. 5|
|2000-OCT: VA: Fairfax County Public Schools: Students in Falls
Church, VA, had been allowed to leave classes to hold Friday Prayer in their
school during the 1999-2000 academic year. The principal terminated this
arrangement, on the basis that the students leaving class was too disruptive. 5|
|2000-NOV: NJ: Absegami High School: A student's mother asked that
her son be permitted to leave wrestling class and pray in an empty school
room. Her request was denied. 5|
|2000-NOV: TX: Kerr High School, Houston: The principal threatened
to suspend 30 students if they prayed during lunch hour. She suggested that
they pray either before or after school hours. 5|
|2000-DEC: OH: Franklin Heights High School, Columbus: Four students
were allegedly denied permission to pray during school hours. 5|
|2001-FEB: AZ: Tucson High School, Tucson: Seven students were
allegedly refused permission to take a ten-minute break from class to
accommodate their noon prayer. 5|
|2001-DEC: Canada: Ryerson University, Toronto ON : Some
Muslim students are frustrated at having to use halls, student lounges, or a
tiny Multifaith Center to pray. They have enlisted the support of Hakeem
Olajuwon - a devout Muslim and a 7-foot tall basketball star who plays center for the Toronto Raptors. He wrote a letter to the university administrators, asking
them to provide students with a larger prayer room. Administrators have said
it's not Ryerson's responsibility to provide a bigger space. 6|
|2001-NOV: NY: New York City public schools: Chancellor Harold Levy
stated that the city would facilitate prayers for Muslim students during the
lunar month of Ramadan -- an Islamic holy time of fasting and
spiritual activities. Students would be allowed to leave classes briefly to
pray. Prayer rooms would be established where they could worship. Response
||Some have objected to the linkage of religion and public schooling; they
regard Levy's decision to be a violation of the principle of separation of church and state.
||Others object to special privileges for one faith, and the exclusion of
all others. William Donohue, president of the Catholic League "commended
Chancellor Levy for his decision to endorse the rights of Muslim students.
However, he told Levy that 'in the spirit of inclusiveness,' it was only
fitting that public schools extend that same respect for religious tradition
to every child."
||Others point out that Islam is the only popular faith in the city which
needs to be accommodated in this way. Islamic prayers are expected to be said
at specific times during the day. Christians and others can organize Bible Clubs
and similar groups which can hold prayer sessions outside of classroom
After a flood of complaints, Chancellor Levy decided to abandon his plan. His
office issued a news release saying, in part: "Students of all...faiths can
always pray but it cannot disrupt class and it cannot be offered in the form of
a special prayer room." 7,8
Related essays on this web site:
- Dr. Monzur Ahmed publishes QiblaCalc, a Windows program that
calculates the Qibla direction -- the direction of the Kabbah -- from
any location on earth, as determined by a compass. See: http://www.starlight.demon.co.uk/qibla/
- Al-Islam web site has a prayer time calculator at: http://prayer.al-islam.com/default.asp?l=Eng
- "Siemens USA Accomodates Workplace Prayer in MN: Technology firm
dedicates room for employees to worship," Council on
American-Islamic Relations. at: http://www.malilink.net/archive/0921.html
- "An Employer's Guide to Islamic Religious Practices," Council
on American-Islamic Relations, 453 New Jersey Ave SE, Washington, DC
20003-4034. Telephone 202.488.8787; Fax. 202.488.0833. They have a web
site at: http://www.cair-net.org/
- "The Status of Muslim Civil Rights in the United States -- 2001,"
Council on American-Islamic Relations, at: http://www.cair-net.org/civilrights/2001_Civil_Rights_Report.pdf You need software to read these files. It can be obtained free from:
- Stephanie Cesca, "Basketball Star Backs Bid for Student Prayer
Room: Raptor Hakeem Olajuwon sends letter to Ryerson," The Toronto
Star, Toronto, ON, 2001-DEC-7
- "Culture Facts: NYC Pays 'Lip Service' to School Prayer,"
Family Research Council, 2001-DEC-7, News release.
- From private Emails received.
Copyright © 2001 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2001-DEC-8
Latest update: 2001-DEC-9
Author: B.A. Robinson
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