Muslim pupil loses UK court bid over Michaela school prayer rituals ban

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Michaela Community School in London's Wembley area [File: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]

Student took legal action against London school, saying policy was discriminatory and ‘uniquely’ affected her faith.

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

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

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”.

In a written ruling, Justice Thomas Linden on Tuesday 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 its aims and ability to achieve them “outweighs” any “adverse effects” on the rights of Muslim pupils at the school.

The student and her mother said through their lawyers that they were upset with the ruling.

“Even though I lost, I still feel that I did the right thing in seeking to challenge the ban,” the girl said. “I tried my best and was true to myself and my religion.”

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

The High Court in London was told the ban 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.

Responding to the decision, Katharine Birbalsingh, head teacher 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.

“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, “Head teachers are best placed to make decisions in their school.”

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

SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES

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