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Parliament split in debate over prayer rooms

Remember the UCPH prayer room out in what they used to call KUA? Now parliament has spent an afternoon discussing whether it (and similar spaces) should be banned.

The Danish People’s Party (DF) has for some months sought to close the so-called prayer rooms at Danish education institutions.

According to Marie Krarup, member of parliament for DF and the prime mover in the party’s campaign against the rooms, the prayer rooms are ‘in fact Islam’, and they are in conflict with Denmark’s status as a Christian country.

Tuesday 21st February and the Danish parliament debated a proposal by the Danish People’s Party to outlaw the spaces. Although DF did not get any of the other parties’ support for their proposals (in this round, see below), it was a debate that revealed a rich variety of attitudes towards religion in the public sphere.

Marie Krarup on Facebook 21st February

"No to prayer rooms. Denmark is a Christian country"

Social Democrat Party (S) spokesman in this case, Mattias Tesfaye, told parliament that S agreed with DF that there should be no praying in public institutions.

“We must protect young people against social control from their peers,” he said.

Of course you should be able to sing a Christian hymn at Danish educational institutions. Otherwise it would be ridiculous.

Mattias Tesfaye

Mattias Tesfaye also said that he had received reports from school principals in the western outskirts of Copenhagen who had closed their institutions’ prayer rooms as they caused problems for young Muslims, who did not necessarily want to pray during the day, but felt pressured to do so by their peers.

But Tesfaye also said that a decision to remove religious preaching and praying from public institutions should not only include Islam.

“Any changes will apply to all religions,” he said. “What matters is that there is no preaching and prayer rooms at Danish educational institutions.”

It was not clear Tuesday where the Social Democrats drew the line in terms of permissible religion in the public sphere. Primary schools, for example, facilititate the practice of religion by Christians by making space for confirmation classes and by taking pupils to services up to Christmas.

Member of parliament for DF Karina Adsbøl asked Tesfaye, whether the Social Democrats would also “ban hymns before Christmas”.  He replied, “Of course you should be able to sing a Christian hymn at Danish educational institutions. Otherwise it would be ridiculous.”

Conservatives: It should not harm the Christians

For the Conservative Party (K), the protection of the Christians’ right to practice their religion the reason why they would not support the DF proposal.

K’s education spokeswoman Brigitte Klintskov Jerkel said that a ban could cause problems for those who wanted to “live the Christian faith upon which our society is based.” She mentioned, as an example, a group that could get into trouble, namely a group of Christian students at the Faculty of Law at the University of Copenhagen.

Marie Krarup from DF replied that she had never heard of Christians wanting a prayer room. “What would you do with it? I do not see that a ban on prayer rooms would harm Christian students,” she said.


"Politics of symbolism" Education spokesman Jakob Engel-Schmidt expresses the Liberal Party line on Twitter

Government: Education institutions should decide

Liberal Alliance (LA) education spokesman Henrik Dahl said that “public institutions should be secular,” and that there is no need for “a higher level of religion,” than what was already available today.

Still, the Liberal Alliance would not support DF’s proposal to close the prayer rooms by law, according to Dahl, because local educational institution heads should handle the issue themselves. This was the overall government parties’ position, (where the Conservative spokesman’s position of protecting Christians’ right to practice fits, is open to interpretation).

The Minister for Education from LA Merete Riisager said that she and the Minister for Research and Higher Education Søren Pind (V) will advise the heads of education institutions on how to handle problems of religious controlling.

It will, ironically in consideration of the topic, take the form of a pastoral letter, that in its traditional sense is a letter from a bishop to be read aloud from the pulpits of the diocese.

Merete Riisager could not inform parliament on the contents of the pastoral letter.

We will put forward a new resolution, which is not directed against Islam, although of course it is about Islam. In this way we will at least have the Social Democrats with us,

Marie Krarup

The Socialist People’s Party (SF) turned out – like the government parties – to want to let the question of prayer rooms be up to the local education institutions. SF’s education spokesman Jacob Mark said that he was neither a supporter of prayer rooms nor confirmation classes at school, but that he was convinced that local solutions to any problems with the prayer rooms could be found.

There is no “burning platform,” Mark said, while making it clear at the same time that he was ready to examine the question of prayer rooms more thoroughly.

Carolina Magdalene Maier from the Alternative Party said that she personally had good experiences with a quiet room, as this had been organized on a former workplace of hers.

She called it an expression of “magnanimity and liberality”, that you held confidence in students and staff being able to live as they liked. “What is the problem?” said Maier.

The Social Liberal Party spokeswoman Lotte Rod said that “this is all about DF wanting to ban everything that is Muslim.”

“If you do this, should you not also ban student priests?” she said.

Krarup: Will set forth a new resolution

Marie Krarup, who had wanted the law against prayer rooms, said to the University Post after the debate at Christiansborg that she found the Social Democrat Party’s position in support of a closure of prayer rooms without voting for DF’s proposal as “laughable”.

“We are against prayer rooms, but we will just not do anything about it. Hello there!” said Krarup characterizing Social Democrat policy.

She also said that the Danish parliament was marked by “a paralysis that makes you upset.”

What is the next move?

“We will put forward a new resolution, which is not directed against Islam, although of course it is about Islam. In this way we will at least have the Social Democrats with us,” said Marie Krarup.