If we were to so much as sneeze, people would freak, saying we're secretly smuggling avian flu in or something.
Editorial: Muslims deserve a welcoming campus
Minneapolis college is not out of bounds.
Minneapolis Community and Technical College has been bombarded with letters and e-mails -- most of them hostile, some of them hateful -- since disclosing that it is considering the installation of a foot bath for some Muslim students to use before prayer. This reaction is out of proportion to the modest and cautious inquiry the school has undertaken, and it is certainly out of keeping with Minnesota's long tadition of social tolerance and temperate thinking.
If the downtown Minneapolis school were discriminating in favor of Islam and against other faiths, we would understand the outrage. But it's not. When Christian students asked for space to study the Bible and conduct prayers, the school obliged them. When a Jewish student asked to reschedule an assignment because of a religious observance, the college agreed.
If MCTC were setting some unusual precedent, we might worry. But it's not. St. Cloud State University, the University of Minnesota-Duluth and at least a dozen other colleges around the country have installed small foot-washing facilities for their devout Muslim students -- at modest cost and often using student fees rather than state revenues.
It's worth remembering that this question first arose at MCTC as a matter of safety, not religion. A student slipped and fell after another student used a campus sink to bathe her feet. School officials could have banned the practice of foot-washing in hand sinks, but then they might have run afoul of state law governing religious discrimination and court decisions on religious accommodation.
And so the school found itself wading into that murky question of what the Constitution's "establishment clause" permits and forbids. In our view it has handled that question appropriately. Banning Christmas carols on the official campus coffee cart -- which incensed the school's critics -- seems plainly in keeping with a long string of court rulings that forbid the use of public resources to endorse a particular religion. But accommodating the prayer practices of some devout Muslims seems akin to putting kosher items on the cafeteria menu and letting employees display religious objects in their private workspaces -- accommodations that MCTC has in fact made in the past.
We don't pretend that these decisions are simple. A growing Muslim population means that Minnesota will face difficult questions, time and again, about how far the majority should accommodate the minority -- and how much the minority should adapt to majority norms. But Minnesota will be a stronger state if it tackles these questions in a spirit of generosity and confidence -- and who wouldn't be confident when the state's schools are full of pious, ambitious young people who are trying to get a college education?
©2007 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.
While I'm glad to see this, it does make me wonder. I never stick my foot in the sink or make a mess when I make wudu in a public restroom. Couldn't we be a little less vigorous with the water splashing? Hmm, maybe some enterprising young muslim could come up with some wudu foot wipes or something that people could keep in their backpacks.