Is this Preferential Treatment for Muslims?

Two things I never like to do:

  • Link to an article from USA Today.
  • Agree with a representative of the Thomas More Law Center (a Christian advocacy group).

I will do both, though.

The USA Today article talks about schools giving Muslim students preferential treatment:

The University of Michigan at Dearborn is planning to build foot baths for Muslim students who wash their feet before prayer. An elementary school in San Diego created an extra recess period for Muslim pupils to pray.

At George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., Muslim students using a “meditation space” laid out Muslim prayer rugs and separated men and women in accordance with their Islamic beliefs.

Here’s Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel at the Thomas More Law Center:

“What (school officials) are doing … is to give Muslim students religious benefits that they do not give any other religion right now.”

He’s right. But only in the sense that taxpayer money is being used to fund, for example, the foot baths at the University of Michigan.

The Los Angeles Times quotes Barry Lynn in response to the foot baths story:

Critics insist that such efforts are giving Islamic followers preferential treatment over other faiths.

“Plumbing? You must be kidding. That’s an after-the-fact justification for something that is being done for the purpose of meeting a religious demand,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington.

“You start permanently changing your architecture for one religious group, you have to do it for all. After all, what’s the difference between a foot bath used as part of a ritual and a fountain that can be used for a baptism?” asked Lynn.

“Considering there are 2,000 different religious groups in America, that’s a very slippery slope.”

Maggie agrees that this could be a slippery slope:

What’s to stop Catholics from demanding the installation of holy water fonts by every classroom door? If I was a member of the Church of Cognizance, which advocates the use of marijuana as a sacrament, would the school pay to build a special smoking room for my religious ritual?

Surprisingly, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan is on the side of the school on this one. They say that the foot baths are being installed, not to kowtow to Muslim beliefs, but because of safety issues:

Some of the sinks have started to pull away from the wall, in part from years of use by others like him — who, according to their faith, must clean their feet before praying five times a day.

So when the school recently approved installing two foot baths in a pair of new unisex bathrooms to accommodate the needs of male and female Muslim students, the local Islamic community started planning ways to raise the estimated $25,000 cost.

“We have never encountered a situation where the motivation seems to be a response to a practical cleanliness and safety issue,” the ACLU of Michigan said in a statement. “Indeed, if the university refused to allow Muslim students to wash their feet in the sink without there being a viable alternative, we would have concerns about whether the university was unconstitutionally interfering with students’ right to practice their religion.”

With that rationale, though, I suspect it wouldn’t be long before other religious groups use “safety” as a reason to get taxpayer money to fund their own religious needs. If you can’t pray properly, Satan will win. It’s the ultimate safety issue, right?


[tags]atheist, atheism, USA Today, Thomas More Law Center, Christian, Muslim, University of Michigan at Dearborn, George Mason University, Islam, Richard Thompson, Los Angeles Times, Barry Lynn, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Catholic, Church of Cognizance, American Civil Liberties Union, Satan[/tags]

  • Gadren

    Wow…
    Now, I’m a big supporter of free speech, but this almost wants me to have colleges go down the road that France did and ban religious symbols and practices in school.

  • http://groundedinreality.blogspot.com Bruce

    It is starting to get a little ridiculous. What’s next, some student takes a religious vow of silence and the school has to provided them with a Stephen Hawking talking computer? I thought there was a difference between having beliefs and acting on them. Do the schools have to cater to every religious whim now?

  • Maria

    ugh. I went to GMU and there is a HUGE Muslim population there, so this doesn’t surprise me……but they are right. if you’re going to cater to one religion, you have to cater to all of them……

  • Darryl

    This is a mistaken policy, but look on the bright side: this kind of thing scares the Christian Righties–that’s got to be good.

  • miller

    But if the Islamic community is paying for it, who is the victim? And I think the slope is only really as slippery as the school officials want it to be. I don’t think this is a straightforward problem. I am ambivalent.

  • http://www.myspace.com/leecookebarbo Lee

    Why not a simpler, less expensive solution?

    The Muslim students could be permitted to bring a plastic wash basin (the kind that hospitals use for bed baths) to school with them at the beginning of the school year. The students could be permitted to store the basins in a location convenient to the restrooms for use throughout the school term.

    In this way, the school does not change its architecture, the sinks do not become pulled away from the wall, and the Muslim students are still within the boundaries of their religious ritual requirements.

  • http://skeptigator.com Skeptigator

    Honestly to me this does appear to be a straight forward safety issue and like “miller” I am ambivalent as well. But then again I trust the ACLU to make very good well balanced decisions.

    I often make the argument with evangelicals that the whole preferrential treatment they receive/demand from lawmakers (think congressional/military chaplains, less strict HeadStart qualifications) will eventually turn around and bite them in the Bibles one day when they aren’t the majority religion anymore. This is usually followed by a rolling of the eyes and a “that won’t happen”. I think there is a saying that says, “when you open the door be careful the devil doesn’t follow behind”.

    Just a side note, I assume The Friendly Atheist agrees with the “words” Richard Thompson is saying not his motivations/beliefs that went into them.

  • severalspeciesof

    To me this is no slippery slope. It’s an either/or. The foot basins are/will be there only because of a religious belief system. No religious belief for washing your feet, no need for the basins, pure and simple.

    I like Lee’s solution.

  • Roderick

    In New York a young man was arrested for flushing a Koran down the toilet. Arrested! You can burn the flag of American you can flush a Bible in the toilet but not the Koran.

    You keep granting them wishes soon you they will be granting you your wishes, the sword or Allah!

    No one seems to be outraged by the fact that in the majority of Muslim Nations the Bible is outlawed, banned completely! Fact is also that as a non Muslim you cannot even enter Saudi Arabia. And as a female you are considered the property of your husband, you cant leave without his permission, you cant eat by yourself (you must have a male with you), you cant drive a car, and much more shockingly inhuman rules, yet the foolish in American are encouraging this religion here? Lets follow all the Islamic rules now! Why dont you learn what they are and stop being foolish!

    Why don’t we all line up and follow the teaching of the Muslims now since in a few years with these morons in control that’s what we will be doing anyway!

    Stop this Muslim infiltration NOW! The Muslim that wants to wash his feet at school can go back to his Muslim Nation and do so. In American we are not Muslims and we should remind them all of that fact each and every day, much in the same way they remind us that we are not Muslims in their country, which must ingornat Americans know nothing of.

    We will fall due to ignorance in this Nation you mark my words. Ignorance of the God, and ignorance of Islam.

  • QrazyQat

    I saw a post at a forum which pointed out that the foot baths can be “substituted by pails of sand, fully in accordance with Qur’an rules”.

    So what we have is an attempt to stir up anti-Muslim sentiment by someone, along with help from ignorant news media people.

  • http://www.blueshifted.org Andy

    With that rationale, though, I suspect it wouldn’t be long before other religious groups use “safety” as a reason to get taxpayer money

    Yeah, but it could also make a good counter-argument. To wit: what if my religion, Reform Frisbeetarianism, requires me to urinate in foot baths whenever I see them in restrooms? This might put my safety at risk, since I’d probably get beaten up by devout foot-washers. Better to leave the foot-baths out.

    In all seriousness, though, I think it’s really amazing that conservative Christians can see completely eye-to-eye with us on something like this, and write a well-reasoned article, and almost make it look like they really get church-state separation…but they just can’t make that logical extension to their own religion. I guess it’s just a failure of introspection–everyone else’s religion is a weird, deluded cult, but MINE is the One True Faith, so I should get special treatment.

  • Maria

    This is a mistaken policy, but look on the bright side: this kind of thing scares the Christian Righties–that’s got to be good.

    LOL, true, I just don’t want there to then be influencial Muslim righties………

    Why not a simpler, less expensive solution?

    The Muslim students could be permitted to bring a plastic wash basin (the kind that hospitals use for bed baths) to school with them at the beginning of the school year. The students could be permitted to store the basins in a location convenient to the restrooms for use throughout the school term.

    In this way, the school does not change its architecture, the sinks do not become pulled away from the wall, and the Muslim students are still within the boundaries of their religious ritual requirements.

    that’s a really good idea!

  • Polly

    Wasn’t washing feet a necessary custom in the days when people walked unpaved roads with sandals?

    Who the hell needs their feet to be washed at random times during the day, now?!? Why do people take traditions that are no longer applicable to new circumstances and insist that they’re still necessary?
    I bet those muslim students’ feet are cleaner without washing than the fully washed feet of 680 AD.


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