Human-rights complaint seeks secular praying room for Muslims at ... Catholic University

I’ll start off this post by informing readers that they will not identify the most outrageous part of this story from the headline, not here at Hot Air, and not at Fox News, which headlines the story, ‘Do Crosses at Catholic University Violate “Human Rights” of Muslims?’  Before we get to the most outrageous part of the story, let’s hit the teeth-grinding allegations in the complaint (via Katie Pavlich):

The Washington, D.C. Office of Human Rights confirmed that it is investigating allegations that Catholic University violated the human rights of Muslim students by not allowing them to form a Muslim student group and by not providing them rooms without Christian symbols for their daily prayers.

The investigation alleges that Muslim students “must perform their prayers surrounded by symbols of Catholicism – e.g., a wooden crucifix, paintings of Jesus, pictures of priests and theologians which many Muslim students find inappropriate.”

Who filed this complaint?  A crank who’s making a habit of targeting Catholic University:

The complaint was filed by John Banzhaf, an attorney and professor at George Washington University Law School. Banzhaf has been involved in previous litigation against the school involving the same-sex residence halls. He also alleged in his complaint involving Muslim students that women at the university were being discriminated against. You can read more on those allegations by clicking here.

Banzhaf said some Muslim students were particularly offended because they had to meditate in the school’s chapels “and at the cathedral that looms over the entire campus – the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.”

“It shouldn’t be too difficult somewhere on the campus for the university to set aside a small room where Muslims can pray without having to stare up and be looked down upon by a cross of Jesus,” he told Fox News.

At this point it’s unclear whether any actual Muslim students at Catholic University are complaining at all.  And it would be difficult to understand why they would complain, since Catholic University is a private institution.  Its name makes their mission and environment about as clear as one could possibly imagine.  If Muslim students had problems with Catholic iconography, one might imagine they would have chosen a more secular environment for higher education — like Georgetown George Washington University, for instance.  As a private Catholic institution, CU is under no compulsion to make arrangements for any other religious services on their campus, nor to strip down the campus so that no one thinks they’re Catholic — even though they’re pretty clear about that.

Besides, what exactly is CU supposed to do — tear down the cathedral dome?  I’ve visited CU and the Basilica, and it’s a beautiful, contemplative place.  My wife and I attended Mass there on a visit a couple of years ago.  The university is hardly overwhelmed with Catholic iconography, however, and there are plenty of places off-campus in the neighborhood for students to meet for those who think it is.  According to Google Maps, there are five Islamic centers within 4 miles of the Basilica, including three less than two miles away.

However, none of this is the most outrageous part of the story.  The most outrageous part of the story is that the Office of Human Rights thinks it needs six months to probe this complaint:

A spokesperson for the Office of Human Rights told Fox News they had received a 60-page complaint against the private university. The investigation, they said, could take as long a six months.

I can solve this in sixty seconds: “Those offended by Catholic iconography should not choose a private Catholic university for their higher education.” That didn’t take six months or waste thousands of taxpayer dollars.  The very idea that this needs six months of investigation tells me that we need to eliminate the Office of Human Rights, and perhaps replace it with the Office of Minding Your Own Business and the Department of Having A Clue In The First Place.

Update: I did mean George Washington University, not Georgetown, which one commenter reminded me is also a private Catholic university (Jesuit, in fact).  My point was that these students — if any actually are complaining — could have attended Banzhaf’s university rather than CU.

Update II: Maybe I should argue that I didn’t make a mistake by referencing Georgetown instead of GWU.  I’ve received a few e-mails about Georgetown’s track record on defending its Catholic environment, put best by Mark M:

When I saw that line crossed through Georgetown on your Human rights post I just about laughed out loud.  I thought you were referring in a backhanded way to the whole crucifix controversy that broke out there sometime in the late 80s early 90s.  I do not remember exactly when it was, but Georgetown did seriously debate if  they should take down their crucifixes so they would not offend non Catholics.  I am fairly sure they did end up removing them.  Contrast this with Notre Dame which not only has a crucifix in every classroom, but in the list of emergency numbers posted by the phone in every classroom is a number to call if the crucifix has disappeared.

I had the pleasure of being a student at both institutions.  One semester at GT and then I did my graduate work at ND.  The difference between the schools in terms of Catholic identity was black and white.  The feeling at GT was almost as if they were ashamed of it.  At ND it was everywhere.  If you have been to a football game at ND, (And I believe you wrote about it at the Captains Quarters) you should have been able to pick up on it.

I’ve never been to Georgetown but I have visited Notre Dame twice, and it is a very Catholic environment.  I just wish I could claim credit for a backhanded reference, but it really was just a caffeine-deficient moment for me.

Update III: I just received this from a grad student at Georgetown:

Georgetown to this day remains a Catholic school, with a crucifix in every classroom, and Jesuit Professors and Deans scattered throughout both the undergraduate and graduate programs. I know tihs first hand as I am in the grad program for International Security Studies at the School of Foreign Service and work at the undergraduate Dean’s Office to help pay rent.

I haven’t yet seen a sign of shame about the school’s Catholic nature, although most of the ‘internal-drive for diversity’ at Gtown- the institutional promotion of diversity and the acceptance of clubs and assemblies of different religions- is mostly an advancement gesture. Guess where Gtown gets its money? Its the Saudis, Emiratis, Lebanese, et al.

So they don’t seem to have a problem with G-town’s iconography. And just to reiterate, there’s really no indication the original story that any Muslims at CU do, either.

Update IV: The Anchoress also weighs in on this story:

Banzhaf is not a stupid man. He knows full well that a Pontifical will not create spaces where Jesus is off-limits. Knowing it, he knows he will be able to paint the school as “intolerant” and “discriminatory.” This leads me to believe that he is either a deeply anti-Catholic bigot, or someone out to make a name for himself by taking on the big, bad Catholic Church via its school. …

I think someone is acting with malice, here, but I don’t think it’s CUA, or for that matter, the Muslim students, who don’t seem to be anywhere near as offended as Banzhaf suggests:

Wiaam Al Salmi, a Muslim student at CUA who recently started the Arab American Association, which had is first meeting this week, said, “The community here is very respectful of other religions and I feel free to openly practice it.” […]“Even though it’s a Catholic school, a lot of its teachings are very similar to Islam,” said Al Salmi. “It teaches respect, community service, love, worship etc. which are things that Islam also teaches.”