Quantcast

«

»

Feb 03 2013

Weird Religious Accommodation in Maryland

The degree to which public schools should accommodate the religious beliefs of students, especially the growing number of Muslim students, is very much an open question. But I’m pretty sure this policy in a Maryland school would be found unconstitutional by a court if challenged:

But a Prince George’s County high school principal believes she has found a way to accommodate Muslim students: She gives those with parental permission and high grades a pass out of class every day to pray.

At Parkdale High School, about 10 Muslim students get out of class for about eight minutes each day to pray together on campus, said Principal Cheryl J. Logan. Another student is working hard to raise his grades so he too can join the group of students, who belong to the school’s chapter of the Muslim Students’ Association, she said.

I can’t imagine this would pass constitutional muster. The school should either accommodate the Muslim prayers or not; they can’t condition that accommodation on some other behavior that isn’t related to the issue. If the accommodation is reasonable under the Free Exercise clause, it’s reasonable for all Muslim students, not just the ones with a certain grade point average.

And this part of the article is rather disturbing:

When Muslim students began praying during the school day at Parkdale, she said, some Christian teachers got upset and told the students that “it was a Christian school.”

Those teachers should have been disciplined for that very, very clear violation of the law. I doubt they were.

21 comments

1 ping

Skip to comment form

  1. 1
    Michael Heath

    A whole lot of stupid in that school, students, teachers, and administrators.

  2. 2
    Francisco Bacopa

    Well, I won’t see how it would be a problem if they let any student doing well in a class take an eight minute break for any old reason whatsoever.

    In fact, students who are performing well in a class can be a distraction to students who are performing less well. I know I sometimes was. Might be a good idea to let them cut out of class 10-15 minutes early so a teacher can focus on some of the basics for the kids who are doing less well.

  3. 3
    glodson

    Well, that is stupid, but well intentioned. Of course, the kicker at the end is just straight up Christian Privilege, more what I was expecting.

  4. 4
    Sastra

    Hey, I’ve got it: tell the Christian students they can only opt OUT of Muslim prayers if their grades are sufficiently high. Parental concern is a strong factor driving student success.

  5. 5
    Michael Heath

    Francisco Bacopa writes:

    Well, I won’t see how it would be a problem if they let any student doing well in a class take an eight minute break for any old reason whatsoever.

    In fact, students who are performing well in a class can be a distraction to students who are performing less well. I know I sometimes was. Might be a good idea to let them cut out of class 10-15 minutes early so a teacher can focus on some of the basics for the kids who are doing less well.

    Students go to school to learn, not pray. Instead how about some extra credit work for those not ready for a tougher class but time to spare in their current class periods? Or assign the stars some students to tutor; both students benefit from tutoring.

  6. 6
    Argle Bargle

    Sastra #4

    You win one internet.

  7. 7
    abb3w

    Hm. I’m not so sure on the lack of muster. The state has a compelling interest in educating students; allowing students who are academically prospering might meet a “least restrictive means” test.

    The school district’s lawyer would be earning their salary, though; 8 minutes of education — or even 20, adding in the disruption impact from the interruption — is a pretty marginal impact, and a practical proposal for an alternative way to make up the lost time might also be less restrictive means.

  8. 8
    imback

    The muster may be thin but passable. Students with good grades have been accommodated with many things, including the freedom to speak at graduation.

    PS. Parkdale is my alma mater, but that was a long time ago.

  9. 9
    mikedoughney

    Just goes to show that “a whole lot of stupid” isn’t confined to rural areas and the South, it’s all over. Parkdale is right around the corner from the University of Maryland campus, just a few miles outside of DC. Riverdale Baptist Church, one of the centers of anti gay marriage organizing in suburban Maryland, used to be located right down the street.

  10. 10
    Ichthyic

    Students go to school to learn, not pray. Instead how about some extra credit work for those not ready for a tougher class but time to spare in their current class periods? Or assign the stars some students to tutor; both students benefit from tutoring.

    these are all good ideas, but there IS something to what this school tried to do.

    Islam is different than xianity, in that it does require certain prayers to be said at certain times each day. Since kids are at school for a long period each day, accommodating this for Muslim students is not an irrational exercise.

    the reason it is would NOT be considered special privilege for Muslims is that they clearly can show an established history of daily prayers, while most xian sects cannot.

    As Ed pointed out, attaching the allowed free period to GP is the only thing that actually might not pass muster.

  11. 11
    greg hilliard

    Sastra for the win!

  12. 12
    brianwestley

    Wouldn’t this be similar to the practice of religious release time from school, as the court found legal in Zorach v. Clauson?

  13. 13
    billdaniels

    Tying the ability to religious accomodation bothers me. Would they deny a kosher meal to a Jewish student who failed math?

  14. 14
    Vicki, duly vaccinated tool of the feminist conspiracy

    Imback @8:

    It’s not really parallel, because speaking at graduation mean the student is spending less time in class. Perhaps more relevant is that since it’s not a religious accommodation (or they would have to let every student speak at graduation), it doesn’t have to satisfy First Amendment rules.

  15. 15
    Childermass

    If the only students who follow Islam get time off, then it clearly unconstitutional. Give the time to every student to use as they see fit, then I don’t have any particular problem with it.

  16. 16
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    ….I assume the logic is that with students who are doing well, missing a certain amount of class time is unlikely to be detrimental. Has that really escaped everyone who commented before me?

  17. 17
    imback

    @Vicki, the First Amendment also contains freedom of speech, which was what I was trying to get at with students getting good grades being allowed to speak at graduation. There are clearly more school privileges than getting out of class, but even so, high schools let students out of class for all kinds of things, for better or worse, and I don’t think eight minutes is that big a deal there.

  18. 18
    bad Jim

    Sastra long ago won all the internets. Awarding another is redundant, but what else can you do?

  19. 19
    bad Jim

    Apart from hoping for more of the same, of course.

  20. 20
    jesse

    This is one of those cases where standing on principle runs up against messy realities.

    As billdaniels touched on, imagine a school that refused to provide kosher meals to a population of Jewish students. Is that constitutional or not? I would say the school should provide a kosher meal option because it’s not unreasonable.

    Providing time for the especially religious Muslim students to pray doesn’t strike me as particularly unreasonable either. Strictly speaking it’s something Muslim students can do that others can’t. But the same is true of kosher meals. (Though I suppose you could ask for one even if you aren’t Jewish). That said, it’s one of those bits where it doesn’t seem to make a ton of difference in the real world. And making life tougher for people because it’s important that the school not be “endorsing” a particular religion seems a bit much. I know, I know, non-religious types don’t see it that way, and you’ll say that if they want a public education they have to abide by its rules.

    But look at it from the perspective of someone who says “I want an education but I cannot practice my religion if I want to get one.”

    This is why I oppose — strongly — moves like the ones in Europe to ban certain kinds of religious dress. (This kind of thing always seems aimed at minorities).

    Tying the activity to GPA is shakier, but if you pressed it the school might revoke that part of it.

    And the teachers at the end of the story presumably haven’t met any Jewish students. I don’t know the demographics of the town tho. Maybe they haven’t.

  21. 21
    eric

    I suspect this policy may be in place more for the teachers than the students. “A” students are likely to finish their in-class work early, and could pray quietly at their desk or ask ot be excused to go out in the hall (if they have to kneel etc.).
    But as the article shows, some of the teachers appear to want the school to be christian. I’m guessing that some of them might be actively preventing students with free time from praying in the hall, out of pure meanness or religious bigotry. So, maybe, this policy is the principal’s way of forcing bigoted teachers to allow non-christians the same freedom they typically allow their christian students.

  1. 22
    Muslim students, lofty neutrality toward the Other, and the Miley Rule

    [...] Ed Brayton is right that Maryland’s Parkdale High School is taking a “weird” approach to religious accommodation. [...]

Leave a Reply

Switch to our mobile site