November 5, 2011

THE PRESS RELEASE announcing complaints against Catholic University of America for alleged bias against Muslim and women students begins with a mention of criminal charges leveled against a bishop in Kansas City for withholding information about suspected child abuse. It’s an irrelevant cheap shot. But it’s a good tipoff to the lack of substance in public-interest lawyer John Banzhaf’s high-profile campaign against Catholic University.

Mr. Banzhaf, a law professor at George Washington University noted for litigation on behalf of non-smokers and women, recently complained to the D.C. Office of Human Rights that Catholic was violating the rights of its Muslim students. The complaint is focused on the school’s policy of not giving official status to non-Catholic worship groups, but Mr. Banzhaf, in interviews and releases, also suggests that Muslim students are uncomfortable with the symbols of Catholicism on the campus. He faults the university for not setting aside space — free of crucifixes and other religious icons — for Muslims to worship. The complaint follows another action by Mr. Banzhaf in which he alleges that Catholic’s elimination of coed dorm floors is discriminatory (he claims such adverse effects to women as not being able to find males to walk with them to their dorms after dark).

It’s a little hard to take the charges seriously considering no one actually claims to be aggrieved. Mr. Banzhaf acknowledged to The Post’s Michelle Boorstein that he had received no complaint from Muslim students but was acting on the basis of a 2010 Post article (which, to our mind, painted an overall positive experience of Muslim students at Catholic). The university has received no complaints from Muslim students and, in fact, reports a doubling of its Muslim enrollment since 2007, from 56 to 122. “Muslim college students are not hothouse flowers that need protection. If they had concerns, we would have heard them,” Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations told us.

Someone who would be discomfited by outward signs of religion would presumably not choose to attend a Catholic university. Institutions with faith-based connections are under no requirement to change them to accommodate other faiths. Catholic should be mindful of the rights of its non-Catholic students and ensure fair treatment. If other religions are allowed to associate — which appears to be the case with Catholic sanctioning the Jewish Law Students Association — then Muslim students should be afforded the same courtesy. A university spokesman told us the JLSA is primarily cultural in nature, is tied to the study of law and does not involve proselytizing, a central concern of a university. There had been a Muslim law student group until its officers graduated and no students came forward to lead it.

These are matters to be dealt with, as Mr. Hooper suggested, through a real dialogue, rather than frivolous, publicity-seeking legal action.