The Washington Post

Catholic University is sued over Muslim students’ rights

A George Washington University law professor who filed a human rights complaint against Catholic University this summer when it eliminated coed dorm floors has filed a second complaint against the school, saying the rights of Muslim students are being violated.

The latest complaint, filed a few weeks ago with the D.C. Office of Human Rights, focuses on the school’s policy of not giving official status to non-Catholic worship groups. While the school has an official group for Jewish law students, a Muslim undergraduate profiled in a Washington Post article last year said he was told that he could not create a group dedicated to Muslim worship.

The details of that situation were not clear Thursday, but professor John Banzhaf said he filed the complaint with the city based on the article and had not received any complaints from Muslim students.

Catholic University spokesman Victor Nakas said the school had not received the complaint about Muslim students. But Robert Tuttle, a law professor at GWU who specializes in the separation of church and state, said the city’s anti-discrimination law has a broad exemption for political and religious groups.

The law allows religious and political organizations to give “preference” to people of the same religion or political persuasion “to promote the religious or political principles for which it is established,” Tuttle said.

Banzhaf’s complaint “is not likely to be successful if it’s read the way other courts have read other human rights exemptions,” Tuttle said.

Regardless, the question of how religious organizations accommodate other faiths has become increasingly contentious in recent years. At the same time, Catholic leaders have been pressing Catholic institutions to follow Church doctrine, particularly on social issues.

Banzhaf is known for filing dozens of human rights complaints, including those alleging discrimination against women and non-smokers. His Web site declares that he’s called “the Area’s Best-Known ‘Radical’ Law Professor.”

Gustavo Velasquez, director of the city’s Human Rights Office, said Thursday that the agency had just recently received Banzhaf’s second complaint.

Michelle Boorstein is the Post’s religion reporter, where she reports on the busy marketplace of American religion.


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