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NY high school defends new Muslim prayer room for Ramadan

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EAG News
May 26, 2017

CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. – Shenendehowa High School Principal Donald Flynt recently sent a letter to parents that explained Muslim prayer and introduced two new prayer rooms to accommodate Muslim students.

It didn’t sit well with many folks.

“Since prayer for other religions was removed from school years ago, I feel as Shen has crossed the line on allowing this on campus,” an unidentified parent wrote in to WRGB.

“You can’t bring religion into a public institution where we’re really trying to teach kids the idea of opening their critical faculties,” said David Chapleau.

Flynt’s letter explained that Ramadan is the ninth month in the lunar calendar, and “Muslims around the world spend the daylight hours in a complete fast.

“In addition to fasting, prayer occurs on a daily basis for practicing Muslims,” Flynt wrote. “This can be challenging in today’s modern public high school.

“In an attempt to make reasonable accommodations for students and employees to meet their religious obligations, room 65 in High School West and room 109 in High School East have been set aside so students can incorporate this important aspect of their religion into their daily activities while at school.”

  • A d v e r t i s e m e n t

The principal also included some language that seemingly aimed to justify the move and provide legal cover.

“Please note that this is voluntary and student-initiated. Involvement of school employees is a non-participatory capacity,” Flynt wrote. “The allowance of this does not materially and substantially interfere with the orderly conduct of educational activities within the school.”

Despite the claim the rooms were “student initiated,” a school spokesperson told WRGB the change came about after Flynt met with the head of a local mosque. The spokeswoman explained that Muslim students can leave class to pray, and the rooms make that process easier for them.

The spokeswoman also said the district would make similar accommodations for any other religion.

WRGB legal analyst Paul DerOhannesian contends school officials are on solid legal ground.

“There have been cases before where the Supreme Court has said that a school should make its facilities available to all groups including religious groups, if it makes it available to others for certain activities, for example the Boy Scouts,” DerOhannesian said.

Whether it’s legal or not, it’s a ticking time bomb for problems.

In Texas, a prayer room at Liberty High School in the Frisco Independent School District has the district’s superintendent warring with Attorney General Ken Paxton over Paxton’s inquiries about the space.

A student news feature on the 8-year-old prayer room and the school’s daily Islamic call to prayer prompted concerned constituents to contact Paxton and others like Gov. Greg Abbott to look into whether other religions at the school received similar treatment.

“Reports from Liberty’s news site indicate that the prayer room is ‘dedicated to the religious needs of some students’ – namely, those who practice Islam,” Deputy Attorney General Andrew Leonie wrote in a letter to the district in March. “It is unclear whether students of other faiths may use the room at the same time or at other times during the week.”

Frisco Superintendent Jeremy Lyon accused Paxton of using the school’s prayer room as a “publicity stunt” and alleged the Muslim prayer room is open to others who want to learn about the religion. He also outlined ways the district has accommodated students of other religions, NBC DFW reports.

This article was posted: Friday, May 26, 2017 at 5:32 am

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