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EDUCATION

Munich headteacher: ‘Atheists are stupid’

A head teacher at a state school in Munich is attempting to introduce a strict Christian regime by hanging crosses in the classroom and holding daily prayers. He's within the law, but parents and pupils are beginning to resist.

Munich headteacher: 'Atheists are stupid'
"I don't need to justify it because it's in the Bible". Photo: DPA

According to Spiegel, the headteacher of Geretsried comprehensive was covering a lesson for a class of 14-15 year-olds when a debate broke out after the class refused to say a prayer.

At the end of the debate, he said atheists were stupid, sparking outrage among teachers, parents and students alike.

Not all pupils are baptized, and some teachers – including the biology teacher – don’t believe in god, leaving a sizeable proportion of the school community feeling insulted.

In a later debate with students who challenged his insult against atheists, the head teacher said “I don't need to justify that because it's in the Bible.”

One father told Spiegel that the head master had blessed his daughter without asking her when she turned up to school with a lollipop during fasting time.

“You can't impose your personal belief system on a state school,” said a former PTA member, Peter Schneider.

When introducing daily prayers to the school, the headteacher quoted a letter from the ministry of educational and cultural affairs from 1987.

“The ministry appreciates that in lots of schools prayer has always been a practice that is welcomed and practiced by pupils and teachers.”

When a number of teachers opposed his hanging crosses in classrooms, the head justified the move by using the Bavarian constitution.

Article 131 says that “respect for god” is one of the educational objectives of the state.

There was considerable public controversy when the Federal Constitutional Court declared a Bavarian law requiring a crucifix in every classroom to be unconstitutional in 1997. Bavaria replaced it with a law still demanding the same, unless parents filed a formal protest with the state.

That means the head teacher has every right to put crosses in classrooms, unless the parents organize and make a formal complaint.

How Germany compares

In France it's forbidden to wear religious symbols in state schools, so to display a cross in the classroom would not be allowed. Religious education is also not taught in French state schools.

The French consider the separation of church and state as one of their founding principles. The German constitution guarantees the freedom of religion, but there is no complete separation of church and state.

Apart from Bremen, Berlin and Brandenburg, religious education is taught as an optional subject in German schools.  

Traditionally, teaching focuses on the most common religions, Protestant and Catholic Christianity and Judaism.

Because of the considerable Muslim population in Germany today, German schools are gradually integrating Islam into the curriculum, and some states have granted Islam the same legal standing as the Christian churches.  

In France the wearing of the burqa has been banned in public places, including schools.

And until recently it was against the law in half of the German states for teachers to wear the headscarf, including in Bavaria, where the Christian headmaster is introducing his beliefs. 

That ban was  struck down in March after the German Constitutional Court ruled that it violated religious freedom.

The UK has no such ban on religious symbols, because it has an established church and no written constitution. It has compulsory religious education, which is intended to be varied and balanced, including lots of different religions. 

By Matty Edwards

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ISLAM

Mosques in Cologne to start broadcasting the call to prayer every Friday

The mayor of Cologne has announced a two-year pilot project that will allow mosques to broadcast the call to prayer on the Muslim day of rest each week.

Mosques in Cologne to start broadcasting the call to prayer every Friday
The DITIP mosque in Cologne. Photo: dpa | Henning Kaiser

Mosques in the city of the banks of the Rhine will be allowed to call worshippers to prayer on Fridays for five minutes between midday and 3pm.

“Many residents of Cologne are Muslims. In my view it is a mark of respect to allow the muezzin’s call,” city mayor Henriette Reker wrote on Twitter.

In Muslim-majority countries, a muezzin calls worshippers to prayer five times a day to remind people that one of the daily prayers is about to take place.

Traditionally the muezzins would call out from the minaret of the mosque but these days the call is generally broadcast over loudspeakers.

Cologne’s pilot project would permit such broadcasts to coincide with the main weekly prayer, which takes place on a Friday afternoon.

Reker pointed out that Christian calls to prayer were already a central feature of a city famous for its medieval cathedral.

“Whoever arrives at Cologne central station is welcomed by the cathedral and the sound of its church bells,” she said.

Reker said that the call of a muezzin filling the skies alongside church bells “shows that diversity is both appreciated and enacted in Cologne”.

Mosques that are interested in taking part will have to conform to guidelines on sound volume that are set depending on where the building is situated. Local residents will also be informed beforehand.

The pilot project has come in for criticism from some quarters.

Bild journalist Daniel Kremer said that several of the mosques in Cologne were financed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, “a man who opposes the liberal values of our democracy”, he said.

Kremer added that “it’s wrong to equate church bells with the call to prayer. The bells are a signal without words that also helps tell the time. But the muezzin calls out ‘Allah is great!’ and ‘I testify that there is no God but Allah.’ That is a big difference.”

Cologne is not the first city in North Rhine-Westphalia to allow mosques to broadcast the call to prayer.

In a region with a large Turkish immigrant community, mosques in Gelsenkirchen and Düren have been broadcasting the religious call since as long ago as the 1990s.

SEE ALSO: Imams ‘made in Germany’: country’s first Islamic training college opens its doors

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