Upstate New York School Offers Prayer Rooms For Muslim Students

REUTERS/Sandy Huffaker

David Krayden Ottawa Bureau Chief
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A high school in upstate New York will establish special prayer rooms for Muslim students during the month of Ramadan.

As first reported by local CBS affiliate WRGB, Shenendehowa High School principal Donald Flynt informed parents in a letter that he made the decision in order for Muslim students “to meet their religious obligations during school hours.”

According to Flynt’s rationale for the decision: “Prayer occurs on a daily basis for practicing Muslims. This can be challenging in today’s modern public high school. In an attempt to make reasonable accommodations for students and employees to meet their personal religious obligations, room 65 in High School West and room 109 in High School East have been set aside so students can incorporate this important aspect of their religion into their daily activities while at school.”

A spokesperson from the local school district explained that the decision was based upon an information exchange with the imam of a local mosque “in an attempt to improve the school’s cultural proficiency.”

The spokesperson, unidentified in the report, said that the school can’t deny a request from a student to leave the class in order to pray; therefore providing a space on-site enables the student to return quickly to class after performing his religious duties. The school spokesperson insists that such a request would be honored no mater what the religion of the student.

WGRB consulted their legal analyst over the all this. Paul DerOhannesian, was then brought in to comment about the legal ramifications of allowing prayer in schools. DerOhannesian gave the go-ahead.

“There have been cases before where the Supreme Court has said that a school should make its facilities available to all groups including religious groups, if it makes it available to others for certain activities, for example the Boy Scouts,” DerOhannesian opined.

DerOhannesian further suggested that there should be no issue with a school offering prayer rooms to one religion as on as they don’t deny the privilege to other religions, don’t promote the religion or don’t insist that students participate in the religious observance.

DerOhannesian was contradicted by the the assistant editor of The College Fix, Dave Huber, who argued that offering school space for prayer, “equal access” or not, is only operative after school hours — a local Baptist pastor, for instance, would only be utilizing school space for a religious service when the school day was over.

“In addition, the letter sent home makes points out that no school personnel will be involved in the Muslim students’ prayers (an important point to emphasize), but this means that either the children will be alone in the rooms, or (an adult) member of the community will be present,” he writes.

Huber also suggests at that sending a student off to another room for prayer is problematic.

“Teachers and administrators are repeatedly told never to leave a class unattended, nor send a student to sit in the hall, for example, as a ‘time out.’ Teachers are (legally) responsible for their charges during the time (the kids) are scheduled to be in their presence (absences notwithstanding).”

Significantly, just across the border in the neighboring Canadian province of Ontario, special prayer time and space for Muslim students is an increasingly contentious issue.

As reported by The Daily Caller, the Peel District School Board not only allows Muslim students to pray during school hours during Ramadan, but every Friday as well. The Ontario provincial government has argued, as has Flynt, that schools are obligated to meet the religious needs of students.

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