If you don't stand for something you will fall for anything

Malcolm X


This activity explores a dispute over the building of a new mosque in a traditionally Christian area through the simulation of a town council meeting.

Related rights
  • Freedom from discrimination
  • Freedom of religion and belief
  • Freedom of opinion and information
  • To experience real conflicts that can arise in meeting the needs of diverse communities
  • To explore the right to freedom of religion and belief
  • To develop skills of debate and analysis
  • Sheets of paper for name-tags
  • Flip Chart Paper
  • A watch or clock
  • Small bell for the Mayor
  • Photocopy the role-cards in the handout, the description of the problem and the rules of debate (optional).
  • Prepare name-tags for the different parties / groups that will be represented at the meeting.
  • List the different roles on a flip chart so that everyone can see them.
  • Make sure you have a space for the ‘Council Meeting' and separate spaces for the different groups, so that they can discuss their position beforehand or meet with others.
Key Date
  • 21 SeptemberInternationa Day of Peace


1. Read out the description of the problem  in the handout. Explain that all participants are citizens of Sleepyville and all are troubled by the problem of whether a new mosque should be built on a piece of derelict council land.
2. Show participants the list of different roles and ask everyone to select one for themselves. Hand out the role-cards and the description of the problem and indicate where people and groups can meet up beforehand, and where the “Council Meeting” will take place later on.
3. Explain the rules of debate that will be used during the meeting.
4. Explain that there will be 30 minutes before the actual meeting so that people can meet
other citizens, prepare what they want to say and decide how they want to vote! Tell them that the Town Council meeting will last 40 minutes, and that there may be very little time for actual speeches because of the number of people attending. For that reason, they should try to prepare just one or two points that they want to make.
5. Use the preparation phase to set up the space for the “Council Meeting”. Ideally people should sit in a semi-circle or horseshoe shape, with the Mayor at the front, in a slightly elevated position. Parties or groups should be able to sit together, and you should place their name-tags on the tables in front.
6. After 30 minutes, call the citizens for the meeting (or ask the Mayor to do so). He/she should remind people of the basic rules of debate and give a short speech to introduce the meeting.
7. At the end of the meeting, after 40 minutes, the Mayor should call for a vote. When the votes have been counted and the result declared, you should announce the end of the activity, and invite people to bring their chairs into a circle for the debriefing.

Debriefing and evaluationGoto top

Start the feedback round by greeting everybody by their real names or using another technique allowing participants to give up the roles they had assumed during the simulation. This is important to do before starting the debriefing.
Ask the participants what they feel about the process they have just been through:
• Were you surprised by the result of the vote, and did it reflect the position of the person you were playing?
• How much influence do you think you (in your role) had on the result?
• Did interaction with other people or groups make you alter your approach or your attitude towards the problem?
• How easy was it to identify with your role? Why or why not?
• Do you think that this situation could arise in real life? Can you think of any similar cases?
• How would you react if this case arose in your town / place of residence? Did the activity alter your attitude at all?
• What do you understand by the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion?
Do you know of any cases in history (or today) when this right has been denied?
• Why do you think that religious freedom is a fundamental human right?
• To what extent do you think this right is observed in your community?

Tips for facilitatorsGoto top

If possible, you should run this activity together with a co-facilitator in order to be able to answer questions and co-ordinate each step of the activity at the same time. The activity could benefit from having more time available, particularly during the actual meeting, in order that people have the chance to respond to comments made by others. You may also allocate the roles beforehand or allocate roles randomly in order to save time during the session. During the preparation phase, it may be useful to check that people are using the time to meet others or to plan what they are going to say during the meeting.
When assigning the roles, note that the role of the mayor is a very demanding one, and that the person playing it will need to feel confident about facilitating the meeting and – if necessary – cutting people short in order to allow everyone to speak. You will need to go through the task with the participant playing the mayor before the actual simulation.
It is highly desirable that after that, you try to leave facilitation entirely to the person playing the Mayor, both in order that he/she feels your trust and in order that other participants respect his/her decisions rather than looking to you. Of course, if difficulties arise, you may find it necessary to intervene in the course of the simulation. You should, however, try to do this without undermining the authority of the participant playing the Mayor.
If the simulation gets out of control – for example, because people stray off the topic or new pieces of information are invented – or if the Council gets caught in a deadlock and cannot come to an agreement, point out that this can reflect a result in real life, and does not indicate that the activity has failed. You can use this in the debriefing at the end to discuss the difficulty of reaching agreement on issues such as these.
During the debriefing, it is very important to try to avoid repeating the simulation. People need to try to detach themselves from the role they played in the activity in order to be able to reflect properly on what they have been through. You should help them to look back on the simulation with their normal “hats” on rather than in their assumed roles.
In order to prepare for the debriefing and evaluation you may want to read the background information on Religion and Belief in chapter 5.

VariationsGoto top

Depending on the context you are working in, it may be more appropriate to build the activity around “A Church in Sleepyville”, or “A Temple in Sleepyville” and to situate it, for example, in a predominantly Muslim area. Or you may prefer some other combination. You can add news reporters to the activity in order to get a view on the process which is slightly detached; this, however, can add to the time, if you are to discuss the reports with the group (see below for suggestions).

Suggestions for follow-upGoto top

Discuss aspects of the freedom to religion and belief and tensions that have occurred in your country. Critical incidents (case stories) in the news can provide good starters, especially for discussion in small groups. You may also want to follow up this discussion with a deeper exploration of participants’ perceptions of religion and its influence on young people’s lives through the activity « Believers ».

If you have news reporters taking part, you could use their analysis of the process in a separate session. In particular, it would be useful to look at any differences between the reports in order to raise questions about the role and impact of the media. The activity « Front Page » explores how opinions are formed or changed, especially by the media.

You can focus on developing skills of debate, analysis or persuasion by taking some controversial or polarising statements that came up during the debriefing and running the activity « Electioneering» using these statements as a basis.

Ideas for actionGoto top

Encourage participants to look at their own surroundings and explore the extent to which different religious communities have their rights respected. Try to arrange meetings with representatives of some of these communities and get them to speak about whether they feel their rights are being respected.
Depending on the context where you and the participants live or work and the current issues being debated within the Council, it may be interesting to visit a Council meeting in order to become involved in local political discussions that affect the human rights of everyone in the community.

Further informationGoto top

The Right to Religion in International Human Rights Law: You may want to copy the information below for people in the Muslim Association of Sleepyville and in the group Young Sleepies for Human Rights!

European Convention on Human Rights, Article 9:
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance...

Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 30:
In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities or persons of indigenous origin exist, a child belonging to such a minority or who is indigenous shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of his or her group, to enjoy his or her own culture, to profess and practise his or her own religion, or to use his or her own language.

This activity is developed from the activity “A Mosque in Sleepyville” in Companion, a campaign guide about education and learning for change in Diversity, Human Rights and Participation, published by the Council of Europe. The activity was inspired by Susanne Ulrich. 2000. Achtung (+) Toleranz – Wege demokratischer Konflikt-lösung. Verlag Bertelsmann Stiftung

Although this simulation activity is of a fictitious event, there are many similar disputes concerning the building of places of worship for religious minorities across Europe and beyond. In November 2009, a national referendum endorsed a constitutional amendment to ban the future construction of minarets in Switzerland. The result of this referendum could violate the right for Muslims to manifest their religion in public, through worship, teaching, practise and observance, which is an integral part of the right to the freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Additionally, there is a growing trend across a number of European and other states which have recently adopted laws or are considering legislative proposals banning the wearing of Islamic veils (whether the burqa, niqab or hijab) in public, which also forms a basis for discrimination on the grounds of religion. Article 19 – Global Campaign for Free Expression is a human rights organisation which has published a legal comment on the bans on the full face veil and human rights (www.article19.org). You may also wish to do research on issues other
religious minorities are facing presently in Europe.

List of participants in the meeting
Try to keep the numbers balanced by having the same number of  epresentatives for each political party, and the same number in each of the citizen’s groups. You can have as many “ordinary citizens” as you like.
• The Mayor of Sleepyville
• Town Council Members: 3 parties should be represented. You can have 1 or 2 people in each party
• “Young Sleepies for Human Rights!”: 2 to 4 representatives
• “Past and Present Association”: 2 to 4 representatives
• “Muslim Association of Sleepyville”: 2 to 4 representatives
• Ordinary Citizens: as many as you need
• Optional: 1 or 2 journalists who will report on the meeting

Rules of Debate
You may wish to alter these rules according to the size of your group and the time you have available.
• The meeting will be chaired by the Mayor, and his/her decision on all matters is final.
• If you wish to speak, you should raise your hand and obtain permission from the Mayor.
• Comments should be brief, and should not exceed 2 minutes.
• The meeting will close after 40 minutes, with a vote on whether or not the Mosque should be built.
• Anyone attending the meeting is entitled to speak in the debate and to vote at the end.

Role cardsGoto top


A Mosque in Sleepyville (for all participants)

You live in the picturesque town of Sleepyville, a town of about 80,000 people. In the last 60 years the population has changed radically, partly because young people mostly try to move to larger cities as job opportunities there are better, but also because the region has seen the arrival of a large number of immigrant families, many from Muslim countries. Some of these families have been here for 3 generations, but they are still treated with suspicion as “newcomers” by many people in the town. They now make up almost 15% of the total population.
The issue that is now dividing the town is the desire of Muslims in Sleepyville to have a Mosque built on a piece of derelict land belonging to the council. This land has been undeveloped and has been a source of complaints to the council for years: it is near the main shopping street and is an area where vandalism and drug-taking have been a regular problem.
So when a rich businessman offered to take the problem off the Council’s hands, the Mayor thought his lucky day had come! The Council readily agreed to give up the land and to fund 20% of the construction costs for a new mosque on the site. The remaining 10% of the building costs, which the businessman could not cover, were to be found from among the Muslim community. Building was meant to start this week… but the Council has been flooded with complaints from angry residents who object to the project. They have called a special meeting, to which all are invited, to resolve this issue. The meeting will take place in 30 minutes.

Role card: The Mayor of Sleepyville
You are the Chair of the assembly and it will be your role, once the meeting starts, to welcome the participants and remind them of the rules of debate. During the meeting, you should try to give everyone the opportunity to speak - and should not allow anyone to speak for too long! You are very worried about the bad publicity that this case has been attracting and you plan to try, before the meeting, to speak to some of the groups to try to persuade them to soften their position.

Role card: Town Council member: Traditionalist Party (1 or 2 people)
You represent the Traditionalist Party on the Town Council, and you are strongly opposed to the Mosque. You do not think it is right that council land and council resources should be spent on a place of worship that does not respect the traditions of this country and this town. You feel that immigrant families are privileged to be allowed to live here and that they should not try to impose different lifestyles on a country where they are guests. You are also worried that the Mosque could become a meeting area for recruiting terrorists.

Role card: Town Council member: Populist Party (1 or 2 people)
You represent the Populist Party on the Town Council. You supported the original decision to have the Mosque built on the land, partly because you realise that the Muslim community has been very good for the economy of the town and you do not want to alienate them. But you have been very worried by complaints from residents and do not want to create an unnecessary conflict in the community. You are also concerned about your seat in the next council elections, so you will probably support whichever option appears to be least controversial.

Role card: Town Council member: Diversity Party (1 or 2 people)
You represent the Diversity Party on the Town Council. You believe that the relatively large proportion of people from different parts of the world has added to the culture and interest of Sleepyville and you have felt it unfair that the town has deprived many of these people of the opportunity to practise their religion for so long. You can also see that the derelict land is causing social problems in the town and that the Council does not at the moment have the money to develop it themselves.

Role card: Members of the “Past and Present” Association of Sleepyville (2-4 people)
You are one of the main groups opposed to this mosque. Your members are from traditional (non-Muslim) communities in Sleepyville, and you think it is very important to keep the ancient character of the town, where most of you have lived all your lives. The site that is proposed for the Mosque is very central and it would be visible from most places in the town centre.
In particular, the Mosque could block out the view of the main church from the town square. You feel that the character of your hometown is being completely changed by a community that arrived here only recently. You do not see why people who arrived in this country from somewhere else should not live by the same rules as you have here.

Role card: Members of the Youth Action Group “Young Sleepies for Human Rights!” (2-4 people)
Your group was set up to address some of the worst problems for young people today in Sleepyville. You see the building of the Mosque as a solution both to the Muslim community’s need for a place of worship, and as a solution to the numerous social problems which have been a result of the land being left derelict for so long. You support the building of this Mosque but you are concerned that other social problems may be neglected by the Council if they have to contribute to the building. In particular, the youth budget over the past 5 years has been cut to a level where it cannot begin to meet the needs in the town.

Role card: Members of the “Muslim Association of Sleepyville” (2-4 people)
You have been asking the Council for years to provide a place of worship for the Muslim community, but it has always been refused on financial grounds. You feel that it is unfair that the Muslim community is being asked to find 10% of the building costs, when economic conditions are so harsh for most people, and when the Christian community has 11 different places of worship and these are used by far fewer people than the mosque would be. You feel that the contribution that your community has made to the town is not appreciated, that people in your community are unfairly discriminated against in various aspects of their life, and that in refusing to allow this Mosque, the council is denying members of your community their fundamental right to religious worship.

Role card: Citizens of Sleepyville
You are worried about the conflict that seems to have taken over the town of Sleepyville and you want to go to the meeting of the Town Council in order to vote. At the moment you do not know what you will vote for: you need to speak to as many different groups as you can and then you plan to make up your mind.