No prayer room at the school, but a gender-neutral toilet

The management of the MBO school is firm. Also in our great city of Amsterdam, where everything is possible and permitted. There are no quiet rooms at the school. And certainly no prayer room. ‘If the young people need to pray, they can do it at home,’ says one of the directors. There are also some who complain about ‘separation of church and state’.

We walk along the corridor, back to the elevator. In the classrooms, students from all backgrounds sit behind the computers. Very diverse, just as we meet outside in sports, on the train or just on the street. All the colors of the rainbow. In the woodwork practice room you see the same picture. All young people working on their future with chisels and planes.

If they have to pray, if necessary, they can do it at home, it rings in my head. The collectivity and diversity that is so visible in the students’ domain, the auditorium, the classrooms and the canteen, is hard to find in the boardroom of the huge school complex.

Of course we push away our own prejudices. It’s called cognitive dissonance, elegantly put. And we tell each other that it has nothing to do with the fact that there are only white, blonde figures behind that executive table. People who have long since thrown the faith of their forefathers overboard, and who are now projecting their personal dislike of religion in this way, over the backs of, of all places, their trusted students.

We talk a little more about tolerance. It is precisely for our projects on tolerance, diversity and respect that we come to schools like this one. ‘Religion is not tolerant’, it says behind the table. Freedom of religion? ‘Yes, but not in public space. They do that at the kitchen table.’

‘One moment please. I want to go to the toilet,’ says a member of the board. We wait in the hallway until the toilet user comes again. We count three doors. Right at the door to the ladies’ toilet. In addition, the master bedroom. And the third door bears the label of the gender-neutral toilet. We look at each other and realize that we all find this rather inconsistent and hypocritical.

The much praised freedom of religion in our country has disappeared. Flushed down the toilet

With an appeal to compassion, respect, empathy – give the animal a name – we allocate the necessary square meters for physical needs to those who wish to meet them in this way. Lived. But when it comes to spiritual needs, ideas like ‘separation of church and state’, ‘intolerance towards religion’ and ‘Faith belongs behind the front door’ are used to avoid having to face the praying crowd at school.

You don’t just go to school to learn foreign languages, take history lessons, learn to cook and bake or handle screwdrivers and drills. The most important thing: Find out how you, together with the world around you, take steps towards your future. A future where you know how to maintain yourself as a mature and happy person in our society. The narrow-minded, dismissive attitude of such a management team towards the spiritual freedoms to which every human being in our tolerant country is entitled shows that the highest authority in the school has not yet understood this.

Pupils who learn at home that their way of life means that they have to pray three to five times to the Supreme Authority, do not get the opportunity to do so at school. They are banished with their prayer rugs to a corner in the parking garage. Just like black people in the US in the 1950s had to sit in the back of the bus.

The much praised freedom of religion in our country has disappeared. Flushed down the toilet. And it doesn’t matter at all whether it happened in a men’s room, a women’s room or in a ‘progressive’ gender-neutral toilet. We are hopelessly lost.

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