Friday, April 13, 2007

Church/State Separation Goes For Everyone

It seems like all religions want the state to support them. In Minnesota, Muslims want a college to build them ritual foot washing basins. Christians are crying foul at the prospect.

They appear to take a very different attitude toward Islam. Welcome and accommodation are the order of the day for 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 me.

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.

Some local Muslim leaders have advised the college staff that washing is not a required practice for students under the circumstances, according to Davis. 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 told me. "We have new members in our community coming here; we want to be hospitable."

So the college is making plans to use taxpayer funds to install facilities for ritual foot-washing. Staff members are researching options, and a school official will visit a community college in Illinois to view such facilities while attending a conference nearby. College facilities staff members are expected to present a proposal this spring.

Personally, I find the entire controversy instructive. Christians want accommodation in public facilities and their religion respected at every turn. Christians want prayer in public schools, but not just any prayer - only theirs. Christians want clergy to open legislative sessions with prayer, but not just any clergy and not just any prayer - only theirs.

Don't get me wrong, I oppose the use of taxpayer funds to promote religion and religious practices regardless of the religion. Clearly, this foot washing basis would be a violation of Church/State separation and should be opposed on its own merits. I just find it interesting that Christians, who so eagerly push the Church/State envelop at every turn, are the first ones to cry "foul" when a competing religion wishes to do the same.

It is also very enlightening to note that historically, most gains in Church/State separation have come when competing religions fight each other. Cantwell v. Connecticut (1940) was Jehovah's Witnesses versus Catholics. Abington Township School District v. Schempp (1963) was Unitarians against Christians. Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe (2000) was Christians against Catholics and Mormons.

Therefore, I applaud the exploration of minority Islam encroaching on majority Christianity in this country. Perhaps we will reaffirm the separation of church and state as a fundamental value. One can only hope.

1 Comments:

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