Briefing: Ban on prayer rituals in a London school raises questions on religion in multicultural Britain

The decision by the High Court to back the ban on prayer rituals at the Michaela School in North London has provoked a wide discussion on the place of religion in schools and what it means to live in a multicultural society.

In this Religion Media Centre briefing, we hear from a lawyer who says the judgment is surprising and is concerned it may be viewed as the model of a secular way forward, when it is simply a judgment on one school at one time. An academic points out that the Muslim population in Britain is young and the case has politicised a local disagreement creating a moral panic with ramifications for Muslims.

The Michaela school ethos that community takes precedence over the individual with all religions making concessions in order to achieve inclusion is only one form of multiculturalism, which is not clearly defined in Britain as in France with its policy of Laïcité, according to another university teacher. He says in Britain, the pattern of multiculturalism is achieved through a gradual evolution of values, laws and measures emerging over time.

Questions were raised on guidance to schools about the place of religion, where faith schools are subject to inspection on belief, values and ethos, whereas state schools, some with a large majority of students from one religion, are not. But it was pointed out that Christianity is still the starting point in all schools reflecting British tradition, with compulsory daily collective worship, broadly Christian in character.

Hosted by Ruth Peacock, the panel is:

  • Dr Azim Ahmed, deputy director of the Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK, based in Cardiff.
  • Prof Russell Sandberg, professor of Law at Cardiff University and author of many books on law and religion.
  • Ed Pawson, Educational consultant and RE adviser.
  • Dr Joseph Downing, International Relations and Politics, Aston University and fellow of the LSE on minority rights, migration and Islam in France.

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