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UK High Court ruling upholds London school ban on Muslim prayer

April 17, 2024 at 6:34 pm

A general view of Michaela Community School were a Muslim student brought a court case challenging the school’s ban on prayer rituals on school grounds, which it implemented last year. The ban was introduced by the school’s founder, Katharine Birbalsingh, often referred to in British media as ‘Britain’s strictest headteacher.’ in the Brent area of London, England on January 23, 2024 [Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]

The United Kingdom’s High Court has decided to uphold a prayer ban at a top London state school, amid increasing anti-Muslim sentiment spreading throughout the UK.

In Tuesday’s conclusions of a case brought by a Muslim student – identified only as TTT in court proceedings – the High Court ruled that the Michaela Community School in north-west London’s Borough of Brent could continue its banning of Muslim students performing their obligatory prayers.

According to the High Court judge, Thomas Linden, who dismissed the pupil’s arguments against the prayer ban on all key grounds, the prayer ban is justified by the school’s secular ethos and does not interfere with her and other students’ religious freedom as they have the option to move schools.

“The disadvantage to Muslim pupils at the school caused by the prayer ritual policy is, in my view, outweighed by the aims which it seeks to promote in the interests of the school community as a whole, including Muslim pupils”, Linden stated in the ruling.

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Having been implemented in the school in March last year, its founder – and ironically the former head of the government’s Social Mobility Commission – Katharine Birbalsingh claimed that the prayer ban was vital in order to “maintain a successful learning environment where children of all races and religion can thrive”. Following this week’s ruling, she called it “a victory for all schools”.

The ruling was welcomed by Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, with his spokesperson stating that the school “is an outstanding school with a history of excellent outcomes for pupils. The government has always been clear that heads are best placed to take decisions on what is permitted in our schools. And this judgment supports that”.

MP, Kemi Badenoch, the Equalities Minister and Business and Trade Minister, also praised the ruling as a “victory against activists trying to subvert our public institutions”, seemingly referring to anti-Muslim tropes regarding Trojan horse methods and subversion. “No pupil has the right to impose their views on an entire school community in this way. The Equality Act is a shield, not a sword and teachers must not be threatened into submission.”

It was condemned by a number of prominent figures and Muslim community leaders, however, as well as independent thinktanks such as Runnymede Trust which warned that it “targets Muslim students and cannot be removed from the ramping up of Prevent and recent govt extremism definition. No child should be policed for the peaceful practice of their faith”.

READ: UK’s new ‘extremism’ definition targets Muslims amid rise in Islamophobia and anti-Semitism