Apr 13, 2007
Responding to One Contested Sink, in Inside Higher Ed.
The danger of respecting religion is the seemingly endless intolerance that members of one religion may have for another.
Just so, the responses opposing the installation of the foot-washing basin for Muslims seem petty and mean-spirited.
I see no shortage of accommodation for religions on and off campus, from professors wearing rings and crosses and headgear to chapels and churches and cathedrals.
So there is no inconsistency inherent in providing Muslims with a way to wash their feet (members of other religions may find this useful as well).
People who oppose the deployment of religious symbolism and artifacts in public spaces are not opposed to public displays of religion, contrary to how such objections are portrayed.
They become opposed when the display demonstrates some sort of religious exclusivity, an intent to favour one religion over others.
In this light, the foot-washing basin passes the test, because it is not in any way exclusive. It may respect a certain form of cleanliness other religions may wish to forbear, but it generates no exclusivity or climate of exclusion.
The opponents of the installation, however, fail the test, for the net result of their protests is not an environment of greater tolerance and understanding, but rather one in which religious exclusivity is practiced, and people of some faiths feel unwelcome.