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Fearless Philosophy For Free Minds: A Double Standard for Muslim Prayer in Schools?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Double Standard for Muslim Prayer in Schools?

Christian conservatives are rightly outraged at the accommodations being made for Muslim students at a San Diego elementary school. Due to the increase of Muslim students in the student body, Carver Elementary has decided to set aside 15 minutes of the day for Muslim students to pray while the rest of the students are free to read or write. While it is somewhat amusing to see Christian conservatives have another set of religious beliefs forced upon their school children for a change, clearly the actions of Carver Elementary violate the establishment clause and take a wrecking ball to the Jeffersonian wall between church and state. Those of us who wish to preserve this important principle should be just as outraged about school administrators facilitating Islamic religious practices as any other religious entanglements. This leads me to ask many of the same questions Christian conservatives are asking: where is the ACLU, the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), or the other civil rights organizations which normally are right in the middle of these church/state battles?

I suppose it’s possible that these organizations have not had time to mobilize on this case yet. But for every day these organizations fail to enter the debate, it gives credence to the Christian conservatives who believe these organizations only object to church/state violations when Christians are involved. According to this article in The Union Tribune, these groups are “monitoring” the situation. But what is there to monitor? The ACLU website features several other cases they are involved with which are very similar to the Carver case with one difference: the church/state violations are being committed by Christians. There isn’t as much as a mention of the Carver case on the ACLU website. Surely they will get around to it.

This Carver Elementary case has the potential to undo much of the gains the ACLU and the FFRF has made in upholding church/state separation. The Tribune article points out:

In a letter, the religious-rights organization urged the district to broaden its accommodations to Christians and Jews by setting aside separate classrooms for daily prayer and to permit rabbis, priests and other religious figures to lead children in worship on campuses.

A lawyer representing the district said those ideas would violate the Constitution's prohibition against government establishment of religion.

Once one religious group gets its special treatment, all the others want to be accommodated as well (which seems only fair). Priests, rabbis, Southern Baptist/ Mormon/Jehovah’s Witness/Pentecostal preachers, Scientology cooks…where will it end? There are only two ways to uphold church/state separation in government schools: either allow any and every religious group on campus or allow none (I prefer the latter).

Of course there is one way to avoid this controversy altogether: school choice. If it is so important for one’s children to pray at certain times a day or that certain religious rituals are practiced, why not get government out of the equation altogether? Religion is too personal to be imposed on others who wish not to take part.
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