German Court Rules Muslim Student Disturbed the Peace by Praying

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Peter Endig / AFP / Getty Images

Yunus Mitschele. left, waits on November 30, 2011 at the courthouse in Leipzig, before the German federal court rules on whether he has the right to pray according to Islamic rites in school.

This post is in partnership with Worldcrunch, a new global-news site that translates stories of note in foreign languages into English. The article below was originally published in Süddeutsche Zeitung.

(MUNICH) — Yunus M., an 18-year-old Muslim high school student at Diesterweg Gymnasium in Berlin, Germany, has failed in his fight for the right to pray in the public corridors at school. The latest decision concerns this individual case only, judges at the Federal Administrative Court emphasized. But should the plaintiff, who is near graduation, opt to pursue the matter, the only further legal recourse open to him is the Federal Constitutional Court.

The question that the case raises, however, remains: should Muslim students be able to pray openly at school?

Four years ago, Yunus M. and seven friends gathered in the school corridor to bow in the direction of Mecca. The school's director forbid them to do it again, and the case went through a local court, then a court of appeal, before being heard at the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig.

According to chief justice Werner Neumann, students have a fundamental right to pray at school. He said, however, that religious freedom has its limits if it threatens to cause social friction within the school, as was the case here. The court agreed with the position of the school, whose director stated that there had been repeated religious conflicts at the school, and that at an establishment where 90% of the students were not German it was impossible for them all to claim a right to pray there publically. In addition, the director stated, Yunus M. had been offered a space where he could pray privately.

A case-by-case issue?

The case had previously resulted in contradictory court decisions. In September 2009, the Berlin Administrative Court decided in favor of Yunus M., a ruling which the Administrative Appeals Tribunal overturned six months later.

The Berlin Administrative court called in jurist Matthias Rohe, an expert on Islam, who said that the Muslim boy's stance was a "plausible opinion in the spectrum of religious freedom" and that Yunus M. was not an extremist. The Appeals Tribunal called in a colleague of Rohe's, Tilman Nagel, who stated that even the prophet Mohammed had put off praying to make community life simpler.

Yunus M.'s case underscores a basic tension: Do state institutions have to accept strict, conservative, even fundamentalist practices when other interpretations are possible?

The Leipzig court avoided this debate by stressing the individual nature of its decision. For this the court earned praise from some Christian churches. Spokespersons for the Berlin-Brandenburg Evangelical Church and the Archdiocese of Berlin said the court's decision aligned with the freedom of religion guaranteed by the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Yunus M.'s lawyer said they were waiting for the written decision before deciding whether or not to go to the Supreme Court, a move he described, nevertheless, as unlikely.

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