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For the second time in two days, there’s a story of interest to atheists happening in my ultra-local neck of the woods.

At a middle school, a 7th grader saw something he found suspicious:

Seventh-grader Ryan Vandewiel didn’t quite understand something during his lunch hour at Prairie View School in Tinley Park.

Muslim students at the school could sit at a separate table, away from other non-Muslim students, during Ramadan, which in 2007 was from Sept. 13 to Oct. 12.

During Ramadan, practicing Muslims fast from pre-dawn until sunset. Prairie View Principal Joel Martin said this separate table is available to ease the temptation for these kids and “to provide the best environment for the kids in the long-run.”

Vandeweil saw it as segregation, and thought Catholic students should be able to have a separate table during the Lenten season, a 40-day stretch in which practicing Catholics abstain from eating meat on Fridays.

He started a petition and had around 100 students sign it…

“It wasn’t so much that Catholics or I would feel tempted during Lent. I’m a vegetarian,” the 13-year-old said. “I felt left out because there were separate tables offered to a different religion.”

The best quotation:

“I think that if someone is good in their faith they can (abstain) on their own, because they truly believe in what they are doing,” [Vandeweil] said. “Everybody should be offered a separate table for their beliefs or nobody should.”

What the legal answer to this? No lawsuit has been filed or anything, but it seems if the Muslim students chose to sit by themselves, there would be no problem. However, if the school is setting aside a table specially for Muslim students, that would be wrong (and Ryan would be correct).

Not all the Muslim students sit at the special table, for what it’s worth.

Ryan even has an idea for his next step:

If nothing happens, here is my plan for next year. I will sit in the separate Muslim table, and when they tell me to move, I will ask why. They will say, “Because you’re not Muslim”. And I will still sit there because I have just as much a right as everybody else does. I’ll say I’m Muslim for a day if it comes to that. Mr. Martin said himself, though, that it is “unlikely” that anything will happen. We’ll see about that.

I’d love to see that happen.

(How many 13-year-olds do you know who are this socially conscious?!)

On a side note, when I was in high school, some students in the Humanities class did a project where they labeled every table in the lunch room. Above each table was a sign indicating which students sat there. There was a “JOCK” table and a “CHEERLEADER” table and a “BAND” table and a “NERD” table… awkward for just about everyone. Even though we all knew who sat where well before the labels were around.

But where you sat was your decision. Not the school’s.

Even though the principal at Prairie View is making a noble gesture in giving Muslims selective seating, it’s the wrong one.

(Thanks to Chris for the link!)

[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]