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Hot topic: Muslim prayer in public schools

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By Michelle Malkin  •  July 3, 2007 08:28 AM

The latest battleground over religious accomodation and sharia creep is the San Diego public school system. The San Diego Union Tribune reports on a Muslim prayer controversy that has parents and at least one teacher questioning the double standards:

A San Diego public school has become part of a national debate over religion in schools ever since a substitute teacher publicly condemned an Arabic language program that gives Muslim students time for prayer during school hours.
Carver Elementary in Oak Park added Arabic to its curriculum in September when it suddenly absorbed more than 100 students from a defunct charter school that had served mostly Somali Muslims.

After subbing at Carver, the teacher claimed that religious indoctrination was taking place and said that a school aide had led Muslim students in prayer.

An investigation by the San Diego Unified School District failed to substantiate the allegations. But critics continue to assail Carver for providing a 15-minute break in the classroom each afternoon to accommodate Muslim students who wish to pray. (Those who don’t pray can read or write during that non-instructional time.)

Some say the arrangement at Carver constitutes special treatment for a specific religion that is not extended to other faiths. Others believe it crosses the line into endorsement of religion.

The Muslim grievance groups are in the thick of it:

“These things are surfacing more and more in many places where large communities of Muslims are coming in and trying to say this is our right,” said Antoine Mefleh, a non-Muslim who is an Arabic language instructor with the Minneapolis public schools.

His school allows Muslim students to organize an hour of prayer on Fridays – Muslims typically have Friday congregational prayers – and make up class work they miss as a result. During the rest of the week, students pray during lunch or recess.

The San Diego chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations supports the Carver program.

Of course.

Looks like a tricky legal fight ahead:

“This is an area where the law is notoriously erratic,” said Steven Smith, a constitutional law professor at the University of San Diego.

Voluntary prayers by students are protected private speech, the courts have said. That means students can say grace before a meal and have Bible study clubs on campus, and several San Diego schools do. Public school employees, however, cannot lead children in prayer on campus.

Students also can be excused for religious holidays, such as Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, and Good Friday during Holy Week.

The federal Equal Access Act requires that extracurricular school clubs, religious and non-religious, be treated equally.

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