German parents due in court after refusing son’s school trip to mosque

Parents of a German teenager may face a trial and fine for “truancy” after refusing to allow their son to go to a local mosque on a school field trip out of fear that it would lead to his “indoctrination” by Islamic radicals.

The story broke in mid-June, when parents of a 13-year-old student opposed the idea of their son visiting a mosque in the northern German town of Rendsburg, reportedly organized as part of a geography class.

In a letter to the class teacher quoted by the NDR, the teen’s father argued that his son would be “indoctrinated” in the mosque. He went on to say that “for years we have been hearing reports about religiously-motivated violence connected with Islamic people.”

A local education authority subsequently fined the couple a total of €300 ($328), referring to school regulations and regional laws which include penalties for truancy.

When the parents opposed the fine, their case was forwarded to Peter Mueller-Rakow, a local prosecutor, who will decide whether or not to proceed with a court trial, Spiegel reported on Wednesday.

The parents’ lawyer, Alexander Heumann, argues that they refused the school trip out of fear for their son’s “bodily safety.”

Denying any faith-based motives, he emphasized that the couple do not belong to any religious group, and are of the opinion that “nobody shall be forced into a sacred place against his good will.”

Heumann himself, however, is a former member of the Alternative for Germany party, an anti-immigrant political group, and was a participant in setting up the ‘Dugida,’ a Dusseldorf-based branch of the far-right PEGIDA movement.

According to the NDR report, the parents met the lawyer through the ‘Pax Europa’ movement, a civic group which opposes the perceived “Islamization of Europe.”

The story has sparked heated debate among social media users, with many saying that visiting mosques has nothing to do with either geography or school classes.

“What a trip to the mosque has to do with geography classes?” a user named Arthur Dent asked.

Others compared the authorities’ actions to the darkest part of German history, with one user tweeting: “Visiting mosques is a top priority under our regime, similar to having a Fuhrer’s image in everyone’s flat.”

“If the parents get the court verdict, I’ll vote for the AfD,” promised Twitter user Sarah S.

School principal Renate Fritzsche, however, told NDR that the field trip to the mosque was meant to promote tolerance and diversity.

“We also have Muslim children with us and Muslim parents also know that there are no exceptions,” she said, adding that swimming lessons and sex education are compulsory for Muslim children as well. “It is not the responsibility of the parents to say: ‘My child will attend such or such class,’” Fritzsche asserted.

The incident will surely add to the ongoing debate in German society, which is still struggling to find the right balance between religious freedom and people’s other concerns. Critics of the introduction of Islam as an integral part of the cultural landscape play on popular fears of Islamization, which is fuelled by the current immigrant crisis.

READ MORE: German teachers stand up for Muslim student banned from wearing niqab at school

Some moderate voices instead propose engaging with Muslims more in the communities, or even elaborating a new version of Islam that would conform more to democratic values and European culture.