A Muslim student at SOPU Hillerød, a school for health care and pedagogical assistants in a northern Copenhagen suburb, recently went on Facebook to protest against the school’s decision to ban all praying during school hours.
She posed for a photo holding a sign that read: “New from the director. May one pray at SOPU Hillerød? The answer is NO!”.
“My friend received a letter from the leadership of our school, SOPU Hillerød, today that said she can no longer pray during school hours,” Mia Victoria Lunderød Hansen wrote in a public post. “We students don’t think this is right and therefore we’ve gone around the school collecting signatures.”
“A situation like this should be taken care of [because] we believe that everyone should be treated equally,” the post continued.
That post quickly spread across Facebook, spurring hundreds of comments from those who both cheered and denounced the school's decision.
The director of the school confirmed to tabloid BT that the school recently told its Muslim students not to pray at school.
“We have reminded our students about it and reprinted our code of conduct because we have had some incidents that required that we brush up on things,” Inger Margrethe Jensen said.
“Some [students] wanted to establish a prayer room on school property and the Muslims’ prayers have become far more visible because in some cases and they have used the hallways to pray. Religion and education don’t belong together – it belongs to the private life,” she continued, adding that prayer is also not allowed during break times.
The woman in the photo has thus far declined to speak publicly but her sister-in-law, who is also a Muslim, went on Radio24syv to condemn the prayer ban.
“I simply cannot understand it. I can certainly understand those who say that they don’t want things forced upon them – religion is a private thing […] One shouldn’t be allowed to force things on others, but there shouldn’t be others who force things on me [like saying] that I should follow Danish culture and not pray,” Maria Fischer Walldorf told the radio station.
Jensen, the school director, said the institution cannot and will not accommodate religion-specific requests.
“We’ve been asked why they can’t pray at specific times because there are some Islamic directions that one should pray at specific times and it is unfortunate because it just adds more fuel to the fire on Islamism,” she told BT.
The debate about Muslim students being allowed to pray comes just a month after another suburban Copenhagen school made headlines for telling female students that they can no longer attend classes unless they remove their niqabs. Jensen said that SOPU Hillerød also has a niqab ban.