Furor over fasting Muslims

By Michael D. Clark, The Cincinnati Enquirer, October 26, 2006

MASON - Mason school board member Jennifer Miller, who ran on a conservative Christian platform, thinks Christianity should be part of public school education.

So when she heard that two Muslim students had been offered a separate room during lunchtime at Mason High as they fasted during Ramadan, it raised her ire.

During Mason's board meeting Tuesday, a resident accused officials of being overly accommodating by giving the two high school students a separate room during the lunch hour for their dawn-to-dusk fast during the month-long Islamic holiday.

Miller accused school officials of lying about the room's purpose, igniting an argument that ended the meeting early.

"We are a Christian nation, not a Muslim nation," Miller said Wednesday.

"Our Christian values have declined and yet we allow other faiths besides Christianity to have precedence in our schools," Miller said.

Miller and Superintendent Kevin Bright disagreed about the intent of the room, with Bright saying it was supposed to be a "fasting room" and Miller saying it was meant as a "prayer room."

Miller, who wants prayer in public schools and some Bible-based instruction, has no plans to take further action in this situation.

Mason resident Vickie Roark asked the board: "What if Catholics want to hang a crucifix in the school? If you allow one group to pray in school, then you have to allow every group to pray."

Bright contended the district's granting of the Muslim parents' request - so the two boys would not have to sit in the lunchroom while fasting - was simply an act of kindness, not favoritism. He said the boys never used the room, but went to the library instead until Ramadan ended on Monday.

Neither the teens nor their parents were available to comment.

Shakila Ahmad, a Muslim and a Mason parent, said she has found similar cooperation in other Mason schools, in Sycamore schools and at St. Xavier High School.

"If things are obligatory for a particular faith ... and are not in any way promoted by the school, then those things should be allowed if they are not disrespectful to other students of other religions," said Ahmad.

Public schools across the nation already accommodate various religions, she said, such as offering fish entrées for Catholics during Lent, or not scheduling school events on Jewish holidays. Making sure a school group orders pizzas without pepperoni - a pork product that many Muslims and Jews avoid - is another example of practices that should not be taken as anti-Christian provocations, she said.

Karen Dabdoub, director of the Cincinnati Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that as long as students initiate and run an activity, it is protected under the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

"It's very unfortunate that someone might be upset by this. ... The right is there for all students of all faiths, not just Muslims," said Dabdoub. "Most school administrators know their stuff and they know what the law says in this regard."

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