The Freedom From Religion Foundation is questioning the appropriateness of creating prayer spaces for Muslims and Christians at the University of Iowa.
The public university, located in Iowa City, has recently established two prayer rooms for its Muslim students. This is in addition to a longstanding university chapel that features a Latin cross. The presence of such religious venues on a public campus raises a number of issues.
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, FFRF asserts. The organization is also concerned that the university is facilitating the discriminatory practice of gender segregation practiced in the Muslim prayer rooms.
"State-run colleges have a constitutional obligation to not endorse, advance, or aid religion," FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott writes 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 university's special accommodation for Muslims and Christians could also result in other religious denominations insisting on similar facilities. (A Hindu group is already making such a demand.)
FFRF is asking for the University of Iowa to close down the Muslim prayer areas and to remove Christian symbols from the chapel.
"There are already numerous places to worship near the campus appropriately provided by private entities," notes FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nontheistic group with 23,000 members nationally, including almost 200 in Iowa.