by John Haywood
“Complaint says crosses at Catholic school offensive, prevent Muslim prayers,” reads the headline at BeliefNet.
It’s one of those headlines that sounds like a bad joke, but it isn’t. It’s not exactly a serious complaint, either, and it isn’t coming from actual Muslim students in any event. “Baffled Catholic University officials say they have never received a complaint from any of the schools Muslim students,” writes BeliefNet.
In fact, the university expressed its bafflement in a full-length statement: “Catholic University’s faithfulness to our Catholic tradition has also made us a welcome home to students of other religions. No students have registered complaints about the exercise of their religions on our campus. We understand that a professor unaffiliated with Catholic University has made public allegations claiming that we are discriminating against our students on religious grounds, but we have not seen any legal filing – and will respond to them if we do.”
The sixty-page complaint was filed with the Washington, D.C. Office of Human Rights by a one-man nuisance-lawsuit factory, George Washington University Law School Professor John Banzhaf. Muslim students are but pawns in Banzhaf’s game against Catholics. Taken to its logical conclusion, his lawfare would wipe out mosques and Islamic learning centers as well. The rules of engagement in the Establishment’s War on Religion have a funny way of changing to accommodate Islam, however, so perhaps those hypothetical logical conclusions will never be reached.
Banzhaf’s complaint alleges that the large amount of Catholic imagery draping the halls of Catholic University creates an “offensive” environment in which Muslims are intimidated out of proper reverence for their own religion.
He further alleges the university “does not provide space – as other universities do – for the many daily prayers Muslim students must make, forcing them instead to find temporarily empty classrooms where they are often surrounded by Catholic symbols which are incongruous to their religion.”
Not only that, but Muslim students forced to make do with Catholic University’s chapels find their souls crushed by the oppressive spectacle of “the cathedral that looms over the entire campus – the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.” Banzhaf insists the Muslim students must be provided with facilities where they can conduct their five-times-daily prayers without having to look at anything Catholic, especially that immaculate-conception Death Star of Catholic piety.
Todd Starnes of Fox News has Banzhaf admitting “it may not be illegal” for Catholic University to forego special Catholicism-free rooms for Muslim students, “but it suggests they are acting improperly, and probably with malice.”
He explained that since Muslims must pray five times a day, it’s a tremendous burden for them to “look around for empty classrooms and to be sitting there trying to do Muslim prayers with a big cross looking down or a picture of Jesus or a picture of the Pope is not very conductive to their religion.”
It’s hard to keep a straight face while reading all that, but rest assured the rusty gears and chains of the bureaucracy began clanking as soon as Banzhaf’s thick complaint was dumped into the hopper of the anti-discrimination machine. “A spokesperson for the human rights office said they are investigating Banzhaf’s complaint — and the inquiry could take as long as six months,” writes BeliefNet.
“I don’t know what the attorney wants them to do – if he wants them to actually move the Basilica or if the Muslim students can find someplace where they don’t have to look at it,” an incredulous Patrick Reilly of the Cardinal Newman Society told Fox News. “One wouldn’t expect a Jewish institution to be responsible for providing liturgical opportunities for other faiths and I wouldn’t expect a Catholic institution to do that.”
“This attorney is really turning civil rights on its head,” Reilly continued. “He’s using the law for his own discrimination against the Catholic institution and essentially saying Catholic University cannot operate according to Catholic principles.”
The perverse incentive created by this complaint, if it’s successful – or even investigated with enough vigor to impose a significant burden upon Catholic University – is that showing any tolerance or generosity toward other faiths is dangerous for a religious institution. Banzhaf hits Catholic University for refusing to allow a Muslim student group when it permits a Jewish student association, for example.
His assertions about the special needs of Muslim students – assertions that don’t presently seem to be supported by any actual Muslim students – would make them dramatically more difficult to accommodate than, say, Jewish students who are serenely undisturbed by crosses and portraits of Popes… but allowing the easily hosted Jewish students into the university means the ostensibly more difficult Muslims must be allowed as well, or the cry of “discrimination” will ring through the halls.
If this six-month “human rights investigation” picks up steam, the easy way out for Catholic University will be to the create zero-pope crucifix-free “safe rooms” Banzhaf demands. If the university submits, it won’t be the last demand it would be forced to meet. Not by a long shot.
This is all part of the effort to create a legal and super-legal regulatory environment in which maintaining faith-based institutions is nearly impossible… or, at least, so difficult that these institutions will be forever subdued beneath the heel of the almighty State. Just wait until churches lose their tax-exempt status for refusing to comply with Big Government decrees about same-sex marriage, and you’ll see how that works. It won’t just be religious institutions that suffer, either. The demands of sacred “non-discrimination” are growing so heavy that nearly every society and business venture requires the indulgence of government mandarins to get off the ground. We all live in the shadow of regulatory guillotines that could drop at any moment.
As Patrick Reilly noted, it’s difficult to imagine non-Christian institutions coming under attack for taking their religion too seriously. Are Muslims confident that will always be the case? The tactical alliance between the Left and Islamist extremism might end with either of them turning on the other. If the complaint against Catholic University succeeds, one day we might see non-Muslims waging lawfare against Islamic foundations by complaining they’re too Islamic, with those imposing minarets towering overhead, and calls to prayer echoing through the halls five times a day.