Friday, July 27, 2007


USA Today has an interesting article reporting on complaints that some schools are giving Muslim students "special treatment." The examples range from building prayer centers at colleges, to special recess periods for mid-day prayers in elementary schools. The FRC is going ballistic, though they can't seem to figure out why. Half the time, it's because of the perceived lack of parity--they argue that Christians don't get similar accommodations. The other half, it's outrage that we're helping Muslims (icckkkky!). They're not really consistent positions--nothing that the Muslim students are receiving is beyond what the FRC wants for Christian students. The FRC continues to want prayer for me but not for thee, which is to be expected, I suppose. But it does put a damper in their righteous fury.

And my take? Well, I obviously approach such questions from an anti-subordination perspective, which recognizes that Muslim students are not the "norm" in American society and thus might require accommodation in order to freely practice their religion. This accommodation must then be balanced against other, competing values--such as non-endorsement of religion. Some of the examples cited in the article strike me as completely unproblematic. Colleges (public or private) providing facilities for their students to pray is nothing new at all, and I am glad that they are providing equal accommodations to Muslim students as to anybody else. On the flip side, there are some clear cases where lines were crossed--the teacher's aide that led students in prayer at a California elementary school is obviously over the line (although, to reiterate, the FRC has expressed no problem with teachers leading their students in prayer--so long as it's to Jesus). The special recesses are a harder case: unlike Christianity, Islam requires its adherents to pray at specified times. Even still (barring information I don't know), I'd prefer that there not be a special recess session only for Muslim students. Rather, recess should be scheduled so that it overlaps with the time Muslims need to pray, and anybody should be able to pray privately and unobtrusively at that time.

These are difficult issues. We are not served by demonization of those whose faith is different from ours, nor by reflexively falling back into old paradigms of Church/State relations that do not adequately account for religious pluralism in America. Sensitivity, as usual, is the order of the day.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The notion that Muslim students “might require accommodation in order to freely practice their religion” is quite flawed. No public institution could possibly provide the sectarian specific accommodations of the kind you propose (recess times in accord with the Islamic prayer schedule) in a manner consistent with the semantic intent of the framers when they devised the establishment clause. This is precisely the reason we don’t see public institutions accommodating any of the sectarian specific practices of any one faith. Providing a venue to allow for the expression of faith in general is one thing but making faith specific accommodations is quite different. If a Muslim student’s faith conflicts with some aspect of his public education then he is faced with the following choice: abandon his faith or seek education elsewhere. (The same would be true of a Christian or Jewish student). A public institution simply has no constitutional foundation to provide faith specific accommodations to students.

If practicing “Sensitivity” entails the deconstruction of the wall between church and state, then I say lets be insensitive. If ones faith conflicts somehow with the functioning of a public institution, then faith is, in such a case, a disqualifying factor for membership of that institution.