A Maryland public school has drawn attention for its attempt to accommodate Muslim students' religious needs.
Parkdale High School in Prince George’s County, Md., has begun to allow a small group of high-achieving Muslim students out of class for about eight minutes each day to pray together on campus, reports the Washington Post.
In order to qualify for the privilege, students must get parental permission and good grades, according to Parkdale Principal Cheryl J. Logan.
The First Amendment protects the separation of church and state, but it guarantees students are allowed to practice their faith, The Tennessean reported in 2012.
Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, told The Tennessean that while schools may restrict how and where students choose to exercise their religious rights, a school may not stop students from doing so.
"Public schools cannot prevent students from expressing religious faith while on school property," she said.
It has long been established that schools have the discretion to dismiss students to off-premises religious instruction, provided that schools do not encourage or discourage participation in such instruction or penalize students for attending or not attending. Similarly, schools may excuse students from class to remove a significant burden on their religious exercise, where doing so would not impose material burdens on other students.
Still, the attempts of some American schools to accommodate the prayer needs of Muslim students has been met with resistance from parents of other faiths.
Last year a Green Bay, Wis., school district was criticized for allowing Muslim students, many of them recent immigrants, to use empty classrooms to pray during breaks, according to The Christian Post. And the mere possibility that some Muslim students would be getting similar accommodations in a district in Pennsylvania was enough to draw protest from parents, according to The Patriot-News.
In 2007, a San Diego, Calif., elementary stopped allowing its Muslim students a special prayer break after the effort drew international headlines, according to 10News.
Parkdale High's new measure has drawn the ire of conservative bloggers, like the virulently anti-Islamic Pamela Geller, whose Atlas Shrugs blog referred to the Maryland district's initiative as "Mosqueing the Public School." However, Parkdale's Principal Logan didn't bend to the inflammatory rhetoric.
Logan also said that when the school's plan was implemented, she initially heard grumbling from some Christian teachers, who reportedly told students Parkdale was "a Christian school.” But apparently the issues have since been resolved.
“I’ve been real happy with how we’ve been able to deal with it without it becoming an issue,” Logan said, according to the Washington Post.
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