Catholic University has been hit with a human rights complaint filed by a lawyer charging that the school has “illegally discriminated” against Muslim students because it has failed to make available rooms for prayer that have no Catholic religious symbols.
The suit was filed by lawyer John F. Banzhaf III, a public interest law professor at George Washington University who has filed, with his students, hundreds of legal actions over a range of topics.
Muslims are the third largest student group at Catholic University, with only Catholics and Protestants ahead. The number of Muslim students went from 41 in 2006 to 91 this fall.
The complaint was filed with the Washington Office of Human Rights, which has started an investigation. Catholic University President John Garvey denied any discrimination in a statement (see below).
The complaint is based on an article published in The Washington Post last December by my colleague William Wan which looks at the lives of Muslim students at Catholic University. He wrote that Muslim students cite as an attraction of the university a spiritual emphasis central to both Islam and Christianity, though he also shows some of the difficulties Muslim students face living in an overtly Christian environment.
Here is the full Garvey statement:
Dear Students, Faculty and Staff,
You may have heard or read news accounts this week about a complaint filed with D.C.’s Office of Human Rights regarding our Muslim students. The complaint has been filed by John Banzhaf, a professor at a neighboring university who has no affiliation with us. In a press release he issued October 19, Mr. Banzhaf claimed that Catholic University has “illegally discriminated” against Muslim students. That charge is completely without foundation. Worse, Banzhaf has created the perception that it is our Muslim students themselves who are offended by the symbols of Catholicism on our campus, and that they object to the absence of worship space set aside specifically for them.
The fact is that no Muslim student at Catholic University has registered a complaint with the University about the exercise of their religion on campus. And today we learned from an article in the Washington Post that Mr. Banzhaf himself has not received any complaints from our Muslim students. Instead, according to today’s Washington Post, he based his complaint on an article that appeared in that newspaper in December 2010. Contrary to the impression Mr. Banzhaf would like to create, the December 2010 Post article spoke in overwhelmingly positive terms about the experience of Muslim students at Catholic University, and explained why they are attracted to us. A considerable part of the attraction stems from the fact that our community, because of its own outward expressions of Catholic faith, makes them feel comfortable living their faith among us. The evidence bears this out. Since 2007 our Muslim enrollment has more than doubled, from 56 to 122.
I want to reassure all of you that our Muslim students are welcome at our University. Our Catholic teaching instructs us to embrace our fellow human beings of all faith traditions. They enrich us with their presence and help to promote inter-religious and inter-cultural understanding. I regret very much that our Muslim students have been used as pawns in a manufactured controversy. I urge all of you continue to show one another the respect and goodwill that are the hallmarks of The Catholic University of America.
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