April 12, 2007
The Scrooge Report
MINNEAPOLIS – Community college officials in Minnesota are under sharp criticism for considering the installation of foot-washing basins for Muslim students to use during pre-prayer ritual.
Led by Star Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten, critics point out the college’s double standard by giving examples of how Christians on campus have been treated with less consideration.
Kersten recently wrote that Minneapolis Community and Technical College officials are creating a new point of friction by wanting facilities for Muslims to be used in preparing for daily prayers, an apparent first at a public institution in Minnesota.
Cultural clashes involving Islam have recently made headlines in Minnesota. At the airport, some Muslim taxi drivers refuse to transport passengers carrying alcohol; at Target stores, some Muslim cashiers won’t scan pork products.
The college has had clear leanings before toward separation of church and state as evidenced in previous actions against Christian activity on campus, said Kersten, who was recently interviewed by Fox News.
Separation of church and state is clearest at the college during the Christmas season, Kersten said. A memo from Cusick and President Phil Davis, dated Nov. 28, 2006, exhorted supervisors to banish any public display of holiday cheer: “As we head into the holiday season … “all public offices and areas should refrain from displays that may represent to our students, employees or the public that the college is promoting any particular religion.” Departments considering sending out holiday cards, the memo added, should avoid cards “that appear to promote any particular religious holiday.”
Kersten reports that last year, college authorities caught one rule-breaker red-handed. A coffee cart that sells drinks and snacks played holiday music “tied to Christmas,” and “complaints and concerns” were raised, according to a faculty e-mail. College authorities quickly quashed the practice.
Davis said that he wants to accomodate the college’s more than 500 Muslim students. The college has worked with local Muslim leaders to ensure that these students’ prayer needs and concerns are adequately addressed, Davis told Kersten in an interview.
Muslim prayer is an increasingly controversial issue. Many Muslim students use restroom sinks to wash their feet before prayer. Other students have complained, and one Muslim student fell and injured herself while lifting her foot out of a sink, according to the Star Tribune.
Some local Muslim leaders have advised the college staff that washing is not a required practice for students under the circumstances, Davis said. Nevertheless, he says, he wants to facilitate it for interested students. “It’s like when someone comes to your home, you want to be hospitable,” Davis said. “We have new members in our community coming here; we want to be hospitable.”
In Davis’ view, the foot-washing plan does not constitute promotion or support of religion. “The foot-washing facilities are not about religion, they are about customer service and public safety,” he says. He sees no significant difference between using public funds to construct prayer-related facilities for Muslim students and the cafeteria’s provision of a fish option for Christian students during Lent.
College officials claim that the restrictions on Christmas displays apply to employees who are state agents, and so are subject to more restrictions, while students are free to express their religious beliefs.
But where the Muslim prayer facilities are concerned, college authorities themselves are consulting with religious leaders, researching other schools, and using taxpayer money to make improvements to facilitate one group’s prayer, Kersten said.
The college’s treatment of Christianity and Islam seems to reflect a double standard, say Kersten and critics of the proposed foot-washing basins.