Muslim girl loses court case challenging ban on prayers at Britain school

Wednesday, April 17, 2024 – A Muslim pupil has lost a High Court case challenging a ban on prayers at a north London school.

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

She argued the school’s stance on prayer unlawfully breached her right to religious freedom and was “the kind of discrimination which makes religious minorities feel alienated from society”.

The school, founded and led by headteacher Katharine Birbalsingh, a former government social mobility tsar, argued its prayer policy was justified after it faced death and bomb threats linked to religious observance on site.

In a written ruling on Tuesday, April 16, Mr Justice Linden dismissed the pupil’s arguments against the prayer rituals ban.

The judge upheld the student’s challenge to a decision to temporarily exclude her from the school.

Lawyers for the pupil told the judge at a hearing in January that she was making a “modest” request to be allowed to pray for around five minutes at lunchtime, on dates when faith rules required it, but not during lessons.

The school’s legal team told the court in London that students seen praying outside contributed to a “concerted campaign” on social media over the free school’s approach to religion, with there also being a since-removed online petition attracting thousands of signatures.

They added that the governors and headteacher at the school of some 700 pupils, about half of whom are Muslim, had “a margin of latitude, discretion or judgment” over its policies.

The judge said there was “a rational connection between the aim of promoting the team ethos of the school, inclusivity, social cohesion etc and the prayer ritual policy”.

He said: “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.”

Reacting to the ruling, Ms Birbalsingh 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.

“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 said: "I have always been clear that headteachers are best placed to make decisions in their school.

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

Headteacher Katharine Birbalsingh

The pupil and her mother, who helped bring the legal challenge, expressed disappointment at the ruling in statements issued through their law firm Simpson Millar.

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

Her mother commented: "The case was rooted in the understanding that prayer isn’t just a desirable act for us – it’s an essential element that shapes our lives as Muslims.

“In our faith, prayer holds undeniable importance, guiding us through each challenge with strength and faith.”

She continued: "My daughter’s impassioned stance compelled me to support her and I stand firm in that decision.

“Her courage in pursuing this matter fills me with pride and I’m confident she’s gained invaluable lessons from the experience.”

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