Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Double Standards: A Case Study

Examples of double standards don't get any better than this.

On the very day the Detroit News finally ran a story, on page 1B, about the UM-Dearborn’s plans to install “foot washing stations” costing as much as $100,000 to facilitate its Muslim students’ ritual prayers, (“College's foot bath plans spark backlash”), on page 3B was reported how a few miles away a high school Bible club has been denied the request to be treated even like other clubs in the school district. (“Student group sues district for right to start Bible club”). The one article literally lay atop the other.

Here’s what’s been reported about the high-schoolers:

Student group sues district for right to start Bible club

High-schoolers want same privileges as other clubs; officials say they must keep church and state separate.

Shawn D. Lewis / The Detroit News

FARMINGTON -- A student group that wants to establish a Bible club is suing the Farmington Public School District, claiming the district is denying students their rights.
Aaron Grider, a sophomore at Farmington High School, and the student group ALIVE have filed a lawsuit against the school district in U.S. District Court, seeking the same privileges other clubs are afforded, including meeting during school hours, meetings announced over the public address system, and inclusion, with the other clubs, in the yearbook.

There are no religious clubs in the district, which says a Bible club would violate the district's policy to keep church and state separate. The lawsuit said the denial is based on the group's religious purpose, viewpoint and content of its speech and meetings. Edward White, a lawyer with the Thomas More Law Center, a national Christian advocacy group, said the school is violating the federal Equal Access Act.

"You don't need any other religious clubs on the campus for this club to exist," White said. "According to the federal Equal Access Act, if the district allows any noncurriculum clubs, like the chess club or Students Against Drunk Driving, then it must allow other clubs the same rights."

David Ruhland, assistant superintendent of human resources and legal services, said that the district has been trying to work with the group.

"The district regrets that the students of ALIVE, through their legal counsel the Thomas More Law Center, have chosen to file a lawsuit rather than to resolve the issues within the district process afforded to them," Ruhland said.

So are we all clear on this, now? If you’re a Bible club asking nothing more than to meet on school grounds, and otherwise be treated like the chess club or the French club, and you don't demand either money spent on you or to have school facilities redesigned to ease your religious mission, the answer is n-o spells No! The Farmington School District says that’s way too close to endorsing religion. What do you think this is, a theocracy?

But if you’re a Muslim student who feels he must follow a religious prayer ritual five times a day that includes washing his feet, then it’s only reasonable for a public college administration to shell out $100,000 to renovate rest rooms and install purpose-built baths to solve that problem for you. That's no endorsement, just “a lovely touch of appreciation for a prayer ritual that's just a little different than what most of us are used to.”

Local ACLU spokeswoman Rana Elmir, almost certainly filing her nails as she spoke, defended the foot baths as serving a “secular purpose” because nonMuslims can use them. This statement not only makes no sense at all, but has nothing to do with the actual legal standards that need to be applied to these things. Back in pre-Madelyn Murray O'Hair America, any nonChristian pupil at P.S. 32 could join in reciting the Lord’s Prayer. But that didn’t mean school prayer was a secular activity, nor did equal participation protect school prayer from winding up banned as a violation of the Establishment Clause.

And while the Muslim students at UM-Dearborn had their “lovely touch of appreciation for a prayer ritual” handed to them without a struggle by an administration bending over backwards, (and otherwards), to assist a minority of students on their personal jihad, the poor Farmington high-schoolers had to get lawyers and file suit in order to force their school district to even listen.

Fortunately, the Thomas More Law Center is handling the Farmington suit, so we can hope the kids probably won’t have to ante up their own college educations to pay the legal costs.

We don’t know yet if anyone plans to take on UM-Dearborn by means of a similar lawsuit. I’m really hoping someone would. The sandaled march across country of the wudu baths has gone unchecked too long, in spite of substantial legal rulings that have found less egregious endorsements of a single religion unconstitutional. So far the foot bath champions likethe Muslim Student Association pushing them all over the country have not faced the challenge of a test case: a test they are not well placed to win.

By no means did the foot baths that are even now gurgling away in Minneapolis, Chicago, and other American colleges get there because they first passed anything like the strict Constitutional muster that the Baby Jesus and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer have been flunking for years.

No, the baths are there because weak-kneed college administrators, too slow to escape out the window when Muslim activists were approaching, did the next best thing by just agreeing to whatever they thought would make them go away again.

The Muslim Student Association and these colleges have counted on an absence of any legal challenge that would force them to actually explain how spending public money to sponsor a single religion's distinctive ritual is not an unlawful endorsement. The goofy comments we've heard lately from the spokesmen, the clerical staff, and the gal at the ACLU who happened to pick up the phone are the kinds of lazy blather you get when no one is really worried enough to make an effort.

That kind of stuff usually stops when a judge with a gavel, and a lawyer at the other table with some grit in his eye, start insisting on being part of the fun.

Let's hope something like that finally happens here.

(Photo: BBC).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hope Michigan citizens are considering a lawsuit. The Dearborn Press and Guide reported (front page)U-M Dearborn expects to be $429,000 short by the end of the summer. The total shortfall for 07/08 is an additional 1.2 million.
The tuition rates are going to increase to cover the shortfall and pay for Muslims to wash their feet.