After a long delay, the ACLU of Michigan has finally released its position statement on the University of Michigan-Dearborn’s decision to install ritual foot baths for Muslim students.
In the statement , the ACLU admits that "spending public funds for items that were designed primarily to facilitate a religious practice raises red flags,” and that, after an analysis of the “facts,” they "remain troubled by the fact that the footbaths, which are permanent features, will probably be used primarily by Muslim students, and only incidentally by others.”
But in spite of being troubled by the sight of all those red flags, the ACLU refuses to challenge the decision by the University.
Why? Because, as the ACLU is now claiming, the University’s decision “was motivated primarily by concerns for health and safety”; otherwise, “[w]ere those reasons not present, this form of governmental support for one religion would be highly objectionable” to the ACLU.
And so we are to believe that what would otherwise be highly objectionable is neutralized by calling it a hygiene issue.
Now, the ACLU knows perfectly well that a critical legal test applied by courts to suspect government actions is not whether or not it entails safety and cleanliness, but whether or not the action’s principal or primary effect either advances or inhibits religion.
To get around this in the UM footbath case, in which the principal effect of the University's decision to advance the religion if Islam sticks out a mile, the ACLU claims the key issue is actually enshrouded in a dense fog of doubt: “it is not clear," writes the ACLU, “"that the installation of the footbaths has the principal effect of promoting religion.”
It isn't? And how can it be unclear? “[B]ecause Muslim students will continue to wash their feet in the sink before praying if another viable alternative is not provided. It appears that the principal effect is to make an activity that is already occurring safer and cleaner for all students.”
Notice how, when describing the all-important "principal effect," the ACLU coyly reinforces the good old American qualities of "safer and cleaner" (and "for all students," no less!), while obscuring behind a meaningless undefined term (it's only "an activity"), what it is exactly that is being made safer and cleaner. What's being made safer and cleaner is a religious, ritual activity being practiced only by Muslim students and staff.
The ACLU’s statement also attaches a secondary article by Jeremy Gunn, Director of the National ACLU Program in Freedom of Religion and Belief. In his short piece Gunn attempts to justify the footbaths as a neutral accommodation by explaining that the ritual baths, as mere physical objects, are in themsleves “not religious,” the way, say, a crucifix or a baptismal fount or a Torah is a religious object. This matches up nicely with the underlying statement's explanation that "the footbaths are not inherently religious facilities--they are not blessed, cannot be desecrated, and they are open to anyone for any purpose."
As Gunn writes,
Observant Muslims, when possible and practical before their prayers, will often try to wash their hands and feet. The basins in which hands and feet are washed are not of any ritual significance and are not religious objects. A sink in a restroom fulfills the function adequately.
But the point isn’t whether or not the “ablution stations” are religious objects with inherent religious significance. The point is that the ritual washing itself is a religious exercise, and one that, no doubt, poses a religious problem for practicing Muslims--a problem that the University now has taken upon itself to solve with public funds. The ACLU knows very well that government endorsement isn't limited to religious objects alone, but entails religious exercises of any kind, including speech, prayer, Bible reading, and even moments of silence.
In other words, this business of installing ablution stations is exactly the thing that, otherwise, always "raises red flags for the ACLU," (and still raises red flags for most Americans): "The spending of public funds for items that were designed primarily to facilitate a religious practice." In short, the University has left reasonable religious accommodation far behind, and has taken up the affirmative duty of guaranteeing its Muslim students can easily, "safely and cleanly," meet their religious duties.
(NOTE: Do not try this if you are Baptist, Catholic, Hindu, or...oh hell, don't try it if you are anything but Muslim).
Indeed, ACLU admits this foggy issue "would be simpler if the government was building religious facilities that had the clear purpose or effect of promoting religion"--as if that isn't exactly what's going on here!
In fact, the ACLU's own statement admits that "it is true that the footbaths were designed primarily to address the problem of Muslim students washing their feet in the sink," a practice made necessary because, as the statement also explains , Muslims "must wash their feet before praying five specific times during the day...three times with clean water and that new water must be used for each wash."
Since the University began its public song-and-dance about the footbaths we've been assured the purpose-built ritual wudu ablution stations work just as well for everything from washing babies(!) to providing foot-rinsing for lacrosse players, and "even janitors can use them to fill their washbuckets."
That's as may be, except we can't imagine why any of these persons would resort to footbaths when appropriate facilities already exist for college athletes (showers in the gym), janitors (slop sink in the janitor's closet); and if rest room sinks that have had feet in them are not safe and clean for other students to wash hands in, I can't imagine that showering a baby in a foot bath above a floor drain will exactly meet the University's "safer and cleaner" standard, either.
That the ACLU doesn’t believe its own phony analysis is evident in its explanation for why private funds couldn't be solicited to finance foot baths: because it would be seen as a “promotion of religion.” The ACLU statement says:
It is likely that the private funding would be donated by mosques or by those seeking to promote religion. If so, the University’s position that it was taking a practical approach to address cleanliness and safety problems, and not to promote religion, would be undermined. Additionally, such an approach would set a bad precedent when other religious institutions seek to donate money to promote their own religions.
So if the local mosques pony up to install ablution stations the “principal effect” is to promote religion. But if the University spends taxpayer/student money to do the exact same thing-- install ablution stations--the principal effect is to increase safety and cleanliness.
This is exactly how skilled lawyers can distinguish apples from oranges: "This thing here is an apple," they say, "unless you need an orange. In which case it's an orange."
And are we supposed to believe that the Muslim Student Association, that creation of the Muslim Brotherhood, ("Just What Is the MSA?") and CAIR, that unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation terror-funding case, ("Is CAIR Really the 'Muslim NAACP'?) are not championing the footbaths as a promotion of Islam?
This is not a safety and cleanliness problem. If it were, the University has much more direct and simple solutions to the underlying cause of that problem, which is Muslim students misusing restroom facilities and leaving a mess behind. How big a problem can that really be if, as the University claims, it has been in discussions with the MSA for more than two years about this “problem”?
Nor does it help the ACLU's explanation that, as they say, "if the University refused to allow Muslim students to wash their feet in the sink absent a viable alternative, we would have concerns about whether the University was unconstitutionally interfering with the students' right to practice their religion."
Isn't this exactly the kind of Hobson's choice from Muslims we've all grown so weary of? "Allah commands us to perform wudu," we are told, "and if you don't pay to give us special sinks, we'll do it anyway in your rest rooms. If you try to stop us we'll call the ACLU and sue you for interfering with our right to practice our religion. Allahu akbar!"
Which makes me want to say to the ACLU: "Hey, guys, (and this includes you, too, Kary Moss), it's time to either wash, or get out of the sink!" Muslims ritually washing their feet in the rest room sink are either engaged in a religious practice or they aren't.
If they are, then UM laying out eighty large (that's accurate) in public money to facilitate that religious practice is one family-size red flag case of government entanglement. If it isn't, then the ACLU shouldn't have any 'concerns' about interfering with anyone's worship just because the University clamps down on people sticking their size tens into the hand basins.
As we noted months ago, (“The ACLU's Non-Aggression Pact with CAIR”), the ACLU already had decided to sit this one out, in spite of the glaring public endorsement of Islam it entails. This recent statement is a late, and half-hearted, stab at explainingto all their critics why they aren’t on the side of this issue they should be.
Are you buying it? Because we're not.