Thursday, October 27, 2011

Will Catholic University Submit?

The Catholic University of America has just been slapped with two lawsuits. A professor at George Washington University, John Banzhaf III, has formally accused CUA of discrimination against Muslims and women. That's kind of like suing to protect the rights of cats AND the rights of mice, but whatever. So far, it sounds like CUA President John H. Garvey is standing firm, but we'll see if legal muscle, and the threat of millions of dollars in fines, will change his mind.

The campus newspaper, The Tower, covers the issue here. Banzhaf's sex discrimination gripe rests on the University having same-sex dorms. Back in MY day, co-ed dorms were still sort of controversial at my Catholic college. Times change. Unfortunately, not always for the best, and a lot more partying goes on in co-ed dorms. I'm not saying kids in co-ed dorms are out-of-control binge drinkers who spend more time engaging in casual sex than studying Western Civ,  or that no one in a same-sex dorm smokes pot. But research supports the fact that the atomsphere in same-sex residence halls is more conducive to academic success, precisely because there's less socializing.

But Banzhaf's other lawsuit concerns Muslim students who enrolled at Catholic University and are now apparently surprised that it's a CATHOLIC university.

CUA does not have a designated Muslim prayer room, so Muslims have been allowed to use vacant classrooms for prayer. But: they're "uncomfortable" that each room has a crucifix on the wall.

Also, CUA does not have a university Muslim student club. They have an Arab club, but several members are non-Muslims. There's currently no charter for the Muslim Students Association.

The MSA is a presence on most campuses, except really small schools or places that have such a strong identity as being non-Muslim that there's reallly no one who would join. The MSA, though, has chapters at many Catholic campuses. Part of that is because they're mandated to form Muslim groups wherever possible, and part of that is because Catholic schools are loathe to appear intolerant.

MSA is, though, connected with the Muslim Brotherhood, which has never retracted or revised its stated objective: to impose Islam (and shariah law) on the entire world. That's not exactly tolerant, but Muslims can't be expected to behave in a way that they demand of everyone else. I don't know if CUA has declined to acknowledge the Muslim Students Association for this reason, or if there are other issues with the group, but MSA doesn't belong on ANY American campus, let alone at a university that does not espouse Islamist teachings.

(Going back to the same-sex dorm problem: if that lawsuit succeeds, what would Professor Banzhaf do if Muslim students then complained about the LACK of same sex dorms? That would put him between a rock and a hard place.)

As for the lack of comfortable prayer space, this tactic has been popping up everywhere. A few weeks ago, Hertz car rental company fired a couple dozen Muslim employees for failing to observe prayer-break times. Hertz actually accomodated the Muslims who wanted to pray, and they built prayer times into each shift, but employees refused to observe time limits and simply made themselves unavailable for work. Hertz did NOT fire Muslim employees who followed prayer-break rules, but the disgruntled fired employees are trying to create some bad press for Hertz's "islamophobia."

Last week, a teacher from the Chicago suburbs won several thousand dollars in a case she brought against her school district because they did not approve a two-week vacation--in the middle of the school year--so that she could go on the hajj. Well, it's true that teachers get barely any vacation time to begin with, but Muslims follow a lunar calendar, which means hajj month changes a little every year. In a few years, it would have fallen during the teacher's summer break. But she didn't want to wait, and she couldn't understand why the school balked at granting her request. Uh, maybe because the school is concerned about kids not meeting state standards and that having subs for two weeks might put those kids behind their peers?

And consider Benedictine University, in Lisle IL, which I believe now has a Muslim prayer room. It did not have one several years ago, so Muslim students were allowed--encouraged!--to use the Catholic school's chapel. The Chicago Tribune  carried a story called "Different faiths, same spirit," which described how Muslim students "draw curtains to cover the wooden altar, the pulpit and stained-glass images of St. Benedict and Jesus carrying the cross." One wonders what is done with the Eucharist if the Host is at all present in the chapel.

The fact the Muslim students dismiss, and disrespect, Catholic tradition and iconography is bad enough. It's even worse when they actually agitate to alter the school environment to accomodate a belief system which is in many ways antithetical to Catholic doctrine.

Neither Professor Banzhaf nor any Muslim student has spoken up to tell the truth about prayer: that is is permissable to say one's prayers silently, to oneself, if one is not in a position to enact the entire ritual. Moreover, it goes against "Muslim social custom" to cause discomfort or discord, which such demands have already done.

The reason no credible Muslim has come forward to put the matter to rest is because this is NOT about religion, spirituality, brotherhood, etc. It is about political domination.

Another element should be mentioned, which is that Catholics have bent over backwards to accomodate Muslims. Interreligious dialogue initiatives have become a staple of dioceses all over the world, and proponents are highly vocal here in the US. I have not come across any Catholic high school religion textbook in the past 40 years that has said anything remotely negative about Islam--nothing controversial is discussed, and the overall view of the religion is very touchy-feely, even though Catholicism often comes under scrutiny. (I am getting really sick of hearing about Galileo. Can we move on?)  Catholic media is overwhelmingly in the camp of fighting Islamophobia, even when it means defending a very narrow and radicalized version of Islam. If anyone tries to point out that the emperor has no clothes and that there are some serious concerns about political Islam, that person is silenced. 

CUA President Garvey certainly has my support and my prayers. He seems like a decent man who would not discriminate against any CUA student's religion or deliberately offend them.

But will Muslim students persist in discriminating against non-Muslims...particularly Catholics?