Dallas Morning News – November 9, 2005
Texas: Muslim prayer limits alleged
BY KRISTINE HUGHES
A public interest law firm says Berkner High in the Richardson school district is punishing Muslim students who want to pray on campus.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, based in Washington D.C., faxed a letter to the school Tuesday contending that Berkner recently changed its practice of permitting students to leave class at prescribed times to pray in a quiet area of the school. The letter states that school personnel are "illegally" forcing the students to miss lunch to pray or to skip their noon prayers entirely.
District spokeswoman Jeanne Guerra said administrators are investigating the allegations.
The nine-page letter by the fund's litigation director, Derek L. Gaubatz, says that on Oct. 13, "two assistant principals and a police officer were waiting for the Muslim students when they went to pray" in an empty lecture hall. "Moreover, they told them that school policy prohibited them from praying anywhere on campus."
The letter states the school's policy has since been modified to allow students to pray discreetly in the library during lunch hour.
That won't work, the letter states, because some students' lunch hours don't coincide with the proper prayer time. In addition, students who want to pray aren't allowed to also go to the lunchroom for a meal or to eat in the library, the letter states.
This violates the students' constitutional rights of religious freedom and speech, the letter states.
The group says the policy appears to be targeted at preventing Muslim prayer. . .
Many Richardson schools have established practices to accommodate such prayers. Richardson High allows Muslim students to be excused from class briefly to go to a vacant room to pray.
Berkner has a history of accommodating the needs of Muslim students. Until two years ago, the school allowed Friday group prayers in an assembly hall so students wouldn't have to leave campus. Those prayers were discontinued, though, when officials learned they had expanded to include a sermon by an imam.
After that, Muslim students were allowed to leave class to pray in quiet corners of the school as needed.
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an advocacy group in Washington D.C., said the school probably would not violate the law intentionally. "These things can be worked out given good will on both sides, so I would imagine it would be fairly quickly reversed," he said.