The Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation is demanding that the University of Iowa close its designated Muslim prayer rooms, which the atheist group has deemed unconstitutional.
In a press release on the FFRF website, the group complained about two gender-segregated Muslim prayer rooms recently established at the Iowa City campus, as well as a Latin cross displayed at the university chapel.
“The presence of such religious venues on a public campus raises a number of issues,” the group argued. “By instituting areas that are exclusively used by specific religious groups such as Christians and Muslims, the University of Iowa is violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. … The organization is also concerned that the university is facilitating the discriminatory practice of gender segregation practiced in the Muslim prayer rooms.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott explained further in a letter to University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld: “When a government entity like the University of Iowa creates prayer areas for specific religions and imposes religious rules upon students (removing shoes, segregating men and women), it has unconstitutionally entangled itself with religion. The university finds itself in a position where it must either sponsor and endorse the tenets of a religion by allowing it to impose religious rules, or dictate to religious students which tenets they are allowed to follow on university property.”
The group said it is “asking” for the University of Iowa “to close down the Muslim prayer areas and to remove Christian symbols from the chapel.”
The Muslim Student Association at the University of Iowa celebrated the opening of the prayer space last month, posting on Facebook: “For the first time, Muslim students at the University of Iowa have a safe place to pray on campus,” Breitbart News reported.
Though the school’s vice president for student life, Tom Rocklin, said the new prayer spaces may be used by any students, he told the Iowa City Press-Citizen last month that the rooms will be used primarily by Muslim students.
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