Ali Basiri, 27, prays next to his desk in his office at Catholic University. Ali is an Iranian graduate student who came there to study electrical engineering more than four years ago. Astrid Riecken / For The Washington Post
The Catholic University of America (CUA) a Pontifical University. That means this is a school established by the Holy See, and directly under its authority. As such, it cannot be true to itself while creating “Jesus-free” spaces.
To demand that a Pontifical University create rooms and spaces where the Crucifix is unwelcome, and Catholic iconography is not permitted would be like stepping into a mosque and demanding that, because there are some Christians in the neighborhood, the mosque should install a Eucharistic Tabernacle.
The picture above shows a Muslim student praying in his electrical engineering lab. You can see a whole photo essay and read the article here.
Yeah, those Muslim students certainly look like they’re unhappy, oppressed and loaded for bear, don’t they?
During his more than four years as a graduate student at Catholic, Ali Basiri has become one of the regulars at the small chapel in Caldwell Hall, the oldest building on campus. Basiri, 27, has spent so much time in the chapel’s pews that he has befriended the organist who practices there.
…at Catholic, he has forged new ways to connect spiritually. Several times a week, the electrical engineering student makes his way past the marble statue of the Virgin Mary at the Caldwell chapel entrance and listens in the pews to Islamic prayers on his MP3 player … He has struck up friendships with equally fervent Catholic believers…It was that kind of exchange that prompted Basiri’s attempts to start a Muslim student association. He wanted to help Muslim students connect and gather for prayer in addition to helping spur conversations across religions.
He found a faculty adviser and filled out the required paperwork but heard nothing back for a while.
Then, an administrator pulled him aside and said it wouldn’t work to have a Muslim group at such a major Catholic institution.
When asked about the experience, Basiri is hesitant to say anything negative about a school that he says has embraced him so fully and given him a chance to grow in faith and academics.
“I understand the difficulty,” he said. “In Iran, if you tried to start a Catholic group at a Muslim university, that would be just as strange and hard to make it work.”
Emphasis Mine. Apparently this Iranian student has no difficulty understanding what John Banzhaf, an attorney and professor at George Washington University, cannot. CUA is not just another Catholic University: it cannot — as a part of the Holy See — create “Christ-free/Catholic-free” rooms. It must be allowed to be what it is, representing who it represents; that is the first tenet, I think, of “Freedom of Religion” — that a religion be free to be what it is. Muslim students choose to attend the university knowing what it is.
Banzhaf seems to have an obsession with the Catholic University of America, and he has filed suit against the university for “Human Rights Violations” against the school’s Muslim students.
Earlier this year Banzhaf brought suit against CUA after it announced that it would be doing away with co-ed dorms and slowly re-instituting single-sex housing. Single sex housing, apparently, is also a “Human Rights Violation” in this man’s mind. I wonder if he has brought suit against any madrassahs for putting boys and girls in separate classrooms?
And I wonder if it is CUA’s connection to the Holy See that teases Banzhar’s obsession?
He also alleged in his complaint involving Muslim students that women at the university were being discriminated against. You can read more on those allegations by clicking here.
Banzhaf said some Muslim students were particularly offended because they had to meditate in the school’s chapels “and at the cathedral that looms over the entire campus – the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.”
“It shouldn’t be too difficult somewhere on the campus for the university to set aside a small room where Muslims can pray without having to stare up and be looked down upon by a cross of Jesus,” he told Fox News.
Again, emphasis mine. Banzhaf is not a stupid man. He knows full well that a Pontifical will not create spaces where Jesus is off-limits. Knowing it, he knows he will be able to paint the school as “intolerant” and “discriminatory.” This leads me to believe that he is either a deeply anti-Catholic bigot, or someone out to make a name for himself by taking on the big, bad Catholic Church via its school.
A spokesman for Catholic University released a statement to Fox News indicating they had not seen any legal filings — but would respond once they do.
“Our faithfulness to our Catholic tradition has also made us a welcome home to students of other religions,” said Victor Nakas, associate vice president for public affairs. “No students have registered complaints about the exercise of their religions on our campus.” [...] Banzhaf said that it is technically not illegal for Catholic University to refuse to provide rooms devoid of religious icons.
“It may not be illegal, but it suggests they are acting improperly and probably with malice,” he said.
I think someone is acting with malice, here, but I don’t think it’s CUA, or for that matter, the Muslim students, who don’t seem to be anywhere near as offended as Banzhaf suggests:
Wiaam Al Salmi, a Muslim student at CUA who recently started the Arab American Association, which had is first meeting this week, said, “The community here is very respectful of other religions and I feel free to openly practice it.” [...]“Even though it’s a Catholic school, a lot of its teachings are very similar to Islam,” said Al Salmi. “It teaches respect, community service, love, worship etc. which are things that Islam also teaches.”
I would bet the same-sex dorms that so offend Banzhaf are one of the things the Muslim students appreciate. By the way, there are no crucifixes in the dorm rooms, unless students put them there.
Ed Morrissey writes: So, what is the university supposed to do, tear down the cathedral? and he makes another important point:
The most outrageous part of the story is that the Office of Human Rights thinks it needs six months to probe this complaint:
A spokesperson for the Office of Human Rights told Fox News they had received a 60-page complaint against the private university. The investigation, they said, could take as long a six months.
I can solve this in sixty seconds: “Those offended by Catholic iconography should not choose a private Catholic university for their higher education.” That didn’t take six months or waste thousands of taxpayer dollars. The very idea that this needs six months of investigation tells me that we need to eliminate the Office of Human Rights, and perhaps replace it with the Office of Minding Your Own Business and the Department of Having A Clue In The First Place.
That would require commonsense.
The Muslim students are not the problem, here. A hater with an agenda is the problem, and a bureaucracy willing to entertain hateful foolishness.
UPDATE: Rod Dreher also says don’t blame the students:
let’s not forget that this whole thing was brought about not by Muslim students, but by a cranky law professor trying to make a name for himself. The web is filling up with outrage stories that Muslims are trying to bully Catholic University into accommodating them by suppressing its own Christian identity. Banzhaf is going to bring all kinds of opprobrium down on innocent Muslims, and contribute to religious discord in this country. Great job, jackass. With friends like you, American Muslims don’t need enemies.
And read Francis Beckwith, too!