A Wisconsin-based secular foundation is calling on the University of Iowa to reconsider a recent decision to set aside full-time prayer spaces on campus.
“This goes beyond any claimed accommodation provided to students,” wrote Patrick Elliott, staff attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, in a letter Friday to UI President Bruce Harreld. “The University may not establish worship and prayer spaces targeted to certain religious persons and practices.”
Earlier this academic year, UI officials agreed to reconfigure two former offices in the Iowa Memorial Union to serve as full-time prayer and meditative spaces to serve the university’s Muslim faculty, staff and students.
“These rooms are certainly going to be used primarily by Muslim students, but they’re not limited to be used by Muslim students,” Tom Rocklin, UI vice president for student life, told the Press-Citizen in February.
The decision came in response to a long-standing request from the university’s Muslim Student Association to offer a centrally located space where the growing number of Muslims on campus can complete their daily religious obligations. Many Muslim students, faculty and staff report feeling tension on campus as they seek discrete places to offer their five daily prayers, at dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset and night.
Each room provides space for 15 to 20 people assembling for joint prayer, said Mohammed Ismail, a biochemistry major and event coordinator for the UI Muslim Student Association. When the association uses the rooms for prayer, they separate the male and female participants into different rooms.
“When a government entity like the University of Iowa creates prayer areas for specific religions and imposes religious rules upon students (removing shoes, segregating men and women), it has unconstitutionally entangled itself with religion,” Elliott’s letter states.
Muslim staff and students said they tried years ago to use Danforth Chapel, the other nondenominational meditative space on UI’s campus. But with its benches, altar and cross, the chapel simply didn’t work for a group whose members spread out rugs and blankets to sit, kneel and stand on during daily prayers.
The foundation also called on UI officials to remove all Christian symbols, statements and iconography from Danforth Chapel, which is located outside the Iowa Memorial Union.
“It will not be long before other groups start seeking prayer rooms of their own, and the university will either have to provide those rooms or risk treating certain religious views unequally and violating the First Amendment,” Elliott’s letter states.
Will this tactic and possible legal challenge put an end to student and taxpayer-funded mini-mosques on campuses across the U.S.? Not likely. We predict the Muslim supremacists will prevail while all others are forced to take their religious cultures and identities further underground.