Muslim school student loses UK court appeal over prayer ban

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A Muslim pupil lost a UK court challenge Tuesday against a top London school’s ban on prayer rituals, in a case about freedom of religion in schools that captured national attention.

The student, who cannot be named, took legal action against Michaela Community School in northwest London, claiming the policy was discriminatory and “uniquely” affected her faith due to its ritualized nature.

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She argued the school’s prohibition of on-site prayer unlawfully breached her right to religious freedom and was “the kind of discrimination which makes religious minorities feel alienated from society”.

The school -- state-funded but independently run and renowned for its academic achievement record and strict rules -- countered that the policy imposed last year was justified.

The High Court in London hearing the case was told the ban introduced last year stemmed from several dozen students beginning to pray in the school’s yard, using blazers to kneel on, the BBC reported.

It then imposed the new rules due to concerns about a “culture shift” towards “segregation between religious groups and intimidation within the group of Muslim pupils”, the court reportedly heard.

In a written ruling, judge Thomas Linden dismissed the pupil’s arguments, ruling that by enrolling at the school she had effectively accepted being subject to restrictions on manifesting her faith.

He concluded that the prayer ritual policy was “proportionate” and that its aims and ability to achieve them “outweighs” any “adverse effects” on the rights of Muslim pupils at the school.

Responding to the decision Katharine Birbalsingh, headteacher of Michaela Community School, said “a school should be free to do what is right for the pupils it serves”.

“The court’s decision is therefore a victory for all schools,” she added on X (formerly Twitter).

“Schools should not be forced by one child and her mother to change its approach simply because they have decided they don’t like something at the school.”

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan also welcomed the ruling, saying “headteachers are best placed to make decisions in their school”.

“Michaela is an outstanding school and I hope this judgment gives all school leaders the confidence to make the right decisions for their pupils.”

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