Sunday, October 30, 2011

Concerns over Muslim Students’ Rights at Catholic University

There are some concerns of rights of Muslim students at Catholic University. The Washington DC Office of Human Rights is currently investigating. These concerns are over questions of whether or not Catholic violated their human rights by not allowing them to form a Muslim student group and furthermore not offering them a room free of Catholic symbols to perform their meeting and required prayer. The symbols that are currently in the school include: “a wooden crucifix, paintings of Jesus, pictures of priests and theologians” that most Muslim student found inappropriate; some noted that they had to pray in the school’s main chapel.

The office explains that this investigation is not going to be instantaneous. A complaint was filed by John Banzhaf and that is how the investigation began. He is an attorney as well as a professor. He was involved in previous cases against the university regarding same sex residence halls and treatment of Muslim females.

A spokesperson from the university did state that their religion allowed for an open home for all religions. The school explained that they offer rooms and chapels for the students to pray, and that they even offer meats that conform to Halal regulations (Muslim eating rules) allowing the students to “do what they want”.

Although Banzhaf does explain that it is not illegal for the school to not offer rooms for the prayer, this situation does bring up some concerns of the constitutionality of what’s occurring. This could actually be a situation of both establishment and free exercise. But before one can unpack the specifics, it is important to recognize that this article is a bit troubling because of the lack of clear information. Nothing seems to have been confirmed. The school has not issues a public statement about the entire investigation, the Office of Human Rights has not disclosed what is currently happening. So, these rumors could be over-exaggerations.

This could be viewed as concern over establishment, because it is a Catholic university that is “purposing” not allowing their (like a) minority group of Muslim individuals practice what their religion requires. Because of this the university is establishing their religion on all of its students.

But what seems like might be more feasible is these Muslims inability to freely exercise their religious freedom. They are being directly prevented from having an accessible room to pray. They could pray in the middle of the hallway or classroom, but they would likely get charged for disrupting the piece. It is understandable them not being allowed to form this students group, if, and only if, the school has a strict policy against religious and atheist groups being formed through the school. If there are currently Catholic or any other religious/non-religious groups a part of campus, the university not allowing the Muslim students to do the same is not ok.

This is important because it is regarding a minority and because there is precedent. We have been exposed to other cases and investigations over students wanting to form religious group. A great example is the case of West Side Community School vs. Mergens where students want to have a bible study group, yet the school will not let them because they do not want their faculty to be there (which is a rule for student groups) because of the school’s concern over establishment. Students say this is unacceptable because it is against the equal access act. The court ruled with the students on this saying that it was ok because: it was outside of class hours, it was voluntary, the sponsor wasn’t paid, other clubs were allowed to meet, these were mature kids, and because of the Lemen test. If the court follows this precedent, then the Muslim students have to be allowed to meet. Lastly, the implications of how this case is ruled could prove that the country embodies islamaphobia. This is extremely important to how the Supreme Court and the educational system view Muslims let alone religious minorities in general. This case is also important because it involves both the free exercise clause and the establishment clause. It looks how they relate and intertwine. This would be an interesting case to have the Supreme Court rule on; wonder if they would side in favor of the minorities? The precedent for that has been no.

8 comments:

Zoey Goldnick said...

I do believe that the school must allow this Muslim organization to form a club if they give this opportunity to other groups. I think it is important in this case to examine if the religious symbols in the classroom are actively supporting one religion over another or simply passive symbols on the wall. I believe during a Muslim prayer session these may be an infringement on their free exercise.

Harry R. said...

I do not feel that this is an establishment issue, for there is no governmental endorsement or restrictions being placed on the Muslim students directly or indirectly. While I feel that the school must allow the Muslim club to form due to the limited open forum present, I do not think that the school has any obligation to provide a particular type of room to the students. It is not the responsibility of the university to provide an ideal place to worship; they need only provide a room.

Elena T said...

It is ironic how this issue is being raised in our country's capital, but none the less preventing the Muslim students from forming a group and not providing them with a room to assemble is unconstitutional because there are not equal amounts of rights given to all student groups, specifically other religious groups. This prevention of allowing them to form a group and use the school's facilities is a violation on their free exercise of religion.

PamelaR said...

I agree with Harry; this isn't establishment at all-- Catholic University is a private school, and the establishment clause deals strictly with state endorsed religions. No matter how favorable the university acts towards a specific religion or against specific religions, they can't violate the establishment clause because it's not a state institution.

BryceS said...

As was mentioned, this isn’t necessarily an establishment issue, but rather an issue pertaining to the ability to practice religion freely. I think this issue has deeper roots. Catholic University is a private institution – and as the name indicates, it is a Catholic institution, and as their website states, “Catholic Faith is the heart of the Catholic University of America.” Clearly, the administration is proving themselves tolerable to other religions by admitting students of different faiths. Not only that, they are allowing minority groups to congregate and form clubs. Personally, I believe these Muslim students are going too far in their demands and taking for granted the fact that they are even given the opportunity to receive an education, let alone form a club, at a Catholic institution.

Kathryn M. said...

Considering the Catholic University is a private institution that does not attest to having entirely secular purposes, the university has the ability to refuse to provide this club a room through university sponsorship. The club should be allowed to form, or else the institution would be infringing on the group’s free exercise. However, the university is not obligated to provide the club funding. Nevertheless, if the university receives federal tax exemption, according to Bob Jones University v. United States, religious intoleration in an educational environment could be construed as “contrary to public policy.” Nevertheless, forcing a Catholic university to violate its dogma also appears to be violating free exercise.

Marissa V said...

I also agree that this is not an establishment issue as the university is a private and Catholic institution. Instead, I believe that the school is taking an appropriate approach to the matter by allowing these Muslim students to practice their religion in classrooms. Regardless if there are christian symbols in these classrooms or not, it should not matter due to the fact that these students decided to apply and attend a religiously affiliated university. If they feel the religious symbolism is that big of an issue perhaps they could move their club off campus or to a more secular spot.

Jean A said...

While on the outside it may look like an establishment case, i feel this case is a violation of free exercise. I believe the school should allow the club to exist as well as provide them a spot to congregate, yet is not obligated to fund them in any sort of way. Seeing as this is a private university with a dominance of Catholicism, these Muslim students made a choice to attend such a school. While the school needs to be fair in order to not hinder their free exercise, the Muslim students should not be allowed to argue and take issue with the religious symbols in the classrooms.