November 20th, 2009 16:58 EST
Maine Muslim Students Right to Pray
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) today asked a school district in Maine to allow a Muslim student to exercise her constitutionally-protected right to pray between classes.
According to the mother of the 7th-grade student at Lewiston Middle School, her daughter has been praying discreetly during her free time or lunch break in a corner of a school hallway. Earlier this week, when school officials discovered that she was praying during breaks, she was allegedly told never to pray on school property.
The girl`s mother reports that despite her best efforts to explain the significance of the prayers, the school has refused to provide religious accommodation. She said she has been forced to pick up her daughter every day and take her to a nearby park to pray.
While school officials may not promote religious practices, they must allow students to pray in a manner that does not disrupt classroom activities, " said CAIR Civil Rights Manager Khadija Athman. Clearly, this student was not a disruption to a positive learning environment and has the right to pray on school property. "
In a letter to the superintendent of Lewiston Public Schools, CAIR National Legal Counsel Nadhira Al-Khalili wrote in part:
The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States protects citizens from government infringement on the free exercise of religion. The Fourteenth Amendment makes the United States Constitution applicable to the states. Furthermore, the United States Supreme Court has held that the government may not impinge on an individual`s free exercise of religion unless the state is advancing a compelling interest that is essential to the accomplishment of an overriding governmental purpose. We do not believe that prohibiting a student from praying in a quiet corner of a school hall on her free time, without disrupting any classroom activity, meets the test of a compelling interest. "
Al-Khalili asked the school district to 1) allow the Muslim student to pray on school property during her free time, 2) modify school policy to provide constitutionally-protected religious accommodation, 3) ensure that the student will not face retaliation because of her request for religious accommodation, and 4) institute diversity training for school staff.
CAIR offers a booklet, called An Educator`s Guide to Islamic Religious Practices, " that is designed to help school officials provide a positive learning environment for students of all faiths.
CAIR is America`s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.
CONTACT: CAIR Civil Rights Manager Khadija Athman, 202-646-6033; CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, 202-488-8787 or 202-744-7726, E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; CAIR Communications Coordinator Amina Rubin, 202-488-8787 or 202-341-4171, E-Mail: email@example.com