Charges Against Catholic University Were Not Made by Muslims - updated 5/18/2015

Sheila Musaji

Posted May 18, 2015      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Charges Against Catholic University Were Not Made by Muslims

by Sheila Musaji

There are serious issues of prejudice, civil rights abuses, and discrimination that are faced by American Muslims.  Cases like the following only further damage the public perception of American Muslims, and undermine attempts to address those serious issues.  We have enough real problems, we don’t need manufactured problems. 

John Banzhaf, a Law School professor at George Washington University has filed a complaint supposedly on behalf of Muslim students at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. His complaint says that their human rights have been violated.

The complaint says that they have been forbidden to form a Muslim student group on campus (although there is a Jewish student group), and that the University has failed to provide prayer rooms without Christian symbols.

It is unclear even after reading many initial news reports about this complaint, whether or not any Muslim students actually back the complaint. [Note: per updates below NO Muslim students complained.]  According to a Catholic University spokesperson, the University has received no complaints from students, and students are welcome to pray in a number of quiet spaces.

The Catholic News Agency reports that

“I regret very much that our Muslim students have been used as pawns in a manufactured controversy,” said John Garvey, president of Catholic University.  ...  “Banzhaf has created the perception that it is our Muslim students themselves who are offended by the symbols of Catholicism on our campus, and that they object to the absence of worship space set aside specifically for them,” university president John Garvey said.  “The fact is that no Muslim student at Catholic University has registered a complaint with the University about the exercise of their religion on campus.”  Garvey also noted that an Oct. 28 Washington Post article revealed that Banzhaf himself had not received any complaints from Muslim students at Catholic University but had instead based his complaint on a Washington Post article from Dec. 2010.


The Christian Post reports that Muslim students at CUA don’t seem as bothered as Banzhaf. In a written statement, university President John Garvey said, “No Muslim student at Catholic University has registered a complaint with the University about the exercise of their religion on campus.”    Banzhaf admitted as much in an email to The Christian Post. He wrote, “At this point, the complaint is filed solely and only in my name.” The online blog for The Blaze says, “Banzhaf sent a letter to the editor of the school’s newspaper soliciting complainants on September 22, yet readily admits that none have signed on to his case against the school.”

Michelle Baumann reports that A formal legal complaint filed against Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. is being strongly denounced by both Catholics and Muslims, who deny that Muslim students are being discriminated against by the university’s display of Catholic imagery and symbolism.

Ibrahim Hooper of CAIR called the complaint “a non-issue”.  He further said: “Muslims pray all the time in various locations.  A Muslim can pray anywhere, practically, from a bus station to a classroom to a cubicle at work.  Hooper acknowledged that distracting images are present in many locations, but said that they should not prevent Muslims from focusing on their prayers.  “These kinds of things occur every day,” he said.  “Particularly at a Catholic institution, you would assume that there would be Catholic symbols in locations throughout the university.”

The only report that I could find anywhere where any Muslim said anything that sounded even vaguely as if they support this ridiculous charge against Catholic University is this Huffington Post report that “There is a better way, and a more civil way and, in fact, a more accommodating way for Muslim students to be able to pray at Catholic University, as they do at Georgetown, at Boston College, another Catholic institution…,” Ibrahim Ramey, Director of the Civil and Human Rights Division of the Muslim American Society Freedom, told Sean Hannity on Fox News.  I can only hope that Mr. Ramey’s quote was taken out of context, as it does not reflect well on him or his organization.

If there was a student who would be offended by Christian religious symbolism, then they should not apply to or attend a Catholic University. 

Mr. Banzhaf for whatever reason has used the American Muslim community to gain publicity for himself, and created yet another “scandal” that never happened but that will be used by Islamophobes to slander and defame our community, and that is truly reprehensible. 

If Mr. Banzhaf doubts how this will be used against us, he only has to read Pamela Geller’s screed titled Muslims Want Crosses Removed at Catholic University with the lede Islamic supremacism at non-Muslim religious universities, expect a Holder lawsuit.  And, then read the comments to her article which include complaints about the “audacity” of “savage Muslims” and “pigs of Islam” who want to “impose Sharia law” and should “get out of our country”.  And even one comment that says “It is becoming more apparent every day why the Serbians wanted to get rid of these people.” 

He could also go to Robert Spencer’s Jihad Watch site and read the article posted there which also claims that this is a Muslim complaint.

Geller, Spencer, Townhall, Fox News, American Thinker, Rush Limbaugh, etc. all repeat such stories and spread them far and wide.

The folks reading these bigoted articles are not likely to actually investigate and find out the truth about this incident.  They will merely repeat it to everyone they know as proof of the sinister designs of those evil Muslims.

Even Newt Gingrich has once again jumped on the anti-Muslim bandwagon with this false story.  Fox News reported that Gingrich was up in arms and he told a large audience “I look at the things that are going on in this country that make no sense to me,” he said to a crowd of about 250 South Carolinians gathered at a pig roast fundraiser organized by the Myrtle Beach Tea Party. “We now have a lawsuit apparently by some Muslim students at Catholic University who are offended being at a Catholic university. Now my first answer to them is ‘Fine, don’t go to a Catholic university.’”

Mr. Banzhaf should really be ashamed.


11/2/11 - Asma Uddin and Ashley McGuire have just published an excellent article Muslims and Catholics vs. Banzhaf in which they expand on the points raised above

...  Banzhaf, who recently brought another lawsuit against the university for gender discrimination over the school’s decision to return to same-sex dormitories, hardly seems concerned about Muslim rights. He is merely using Muslims as his shield in his battle against conservative religious values, not caring that he is subjecting these students and the American Muslim community as a whole to more resentment in a time when resentment is already high and authentic respect is hard-earned.

Rather than praise an interesting phenomenon of growing Muslim enrollment at a Catholic school, a bright spot of interfaith cooperation and respect in a culture marked by tension, Banzhaf has chosen to exacerbate those tensions and play into everyone’s paranoia—namely, the notions that Muslims cannot tolerate any religion but their own and that Catholicism is rigid and oppressive.

And Muslims are paying for it. News commentators such as Sean Hannity were quick to turn the issue into a media circus. In a panel on Fox News last Thursday, Hannity started the discussion on the case by asking about the alleged Muslim complaints, “So, is it a holy war that is being waged in our nation’s capital?”

Banzhaf should find better ways to occupy his time than chasing paper crusades and stirring animosity between religious communities that were otherwise in détente.

I also received an email from Mr. Banzhaf today which was simply a press release seemingly written by Banzhaf himself.  This press release doesn’t speak to the real issue at all - how he could be so callous as to use a minority community already facing discrimination and prejudice in an action that can only increase that discrimination and prejudice.

UPDATE 11/2/2011

And, Raymond Ibrahim posted Why Does the Crucifix ‘Provoke’ Muslims? on November 2, 2011 in which his arguments show that he is aware of the actual facts, but nevertheless he exploits this faux controversy to denigrate Muslims. 

11/6/11 - The Tower newspaper of Catholic University reports that Muslim students have announced their opposition to the recent lawsuit against the University proposed by George Washington University professor John F. Banzhaf, who claims that the University is discriminating against Muslim students by not offering them a separate place to pray on campus.

... “Neither me nor any Muslim student I know has ever filed a complaint against CUA for any reason,” said sophomore biomedical engineering major Alawiyah Al Hashem. “I haven’t seen any actions taken by the university or any of its students that would justify doing so.”

...  The news of the lawsuit has attracted the attention of the national media since Banzhaf first announced his intentions to sue the University for religious discrimination on October 20th.

It has sparked an onslaught of public criticism of the University’s Muslim students based on the premise that the lawsuit was a result of student complaints, despite the fact that Banzhaf never received any complaints from the University’s Muslim students.

Catholic University Muslim students have been accused of a multitude of offenses including asking the University to remove Catholic religious objects and issuing formal complaints to the University for not allowing a private room for Muslim prayer and for not allowing a chapter of the Muslim Student Association to form on campus.

The quantity of national criticism of the University’s Muslim students prompted University President John H. Garvey to issue a formal statement to the entire University community on Friday, October 28th.

“I regret very much that our Muslim students have been used as pawns in a manufactured controversy,” he said. “I want to reassure all of you that our Muslim students are welcome at our University.  Our Catholic teaching instructs us to embrace our fellow human beings of all faith traditions.  They enrich us with their presence and help to promote inter-religious and inter-cultural understanding.”  Garvey also called a closed-door meeting with the Muslim students yesterday in order to express his regret for the misstatements and hate speech against Muslim students which has spread online.

Junior electrical engineering major Wiaam Al Salmi said that she has not encountered anything that could be defined as discrimination during her time at the University.  “I have found that my closest American friends are the more religious Catholics; those who pray before they eat, or who are shocked to see a person cheat,” she said. “They are the ones that allow me to listen to them pray the Rosary or attend Renew with them. These friends not only shared their religious beliefs with me, but they also allowed me to do the same, which then created a sense of respect for one another’s religion.”  Al Salmi is a native of Oman who has lived in the U.S. since 2002.

She said that while the University should have no legal obligation to provide Muslim students with a prayer room, she would also be very grateful to have a secluded place to pray on campus.

“We have to take so many things into consideration,” she said. “We must not start praying on the hour because there might be a class here in 10 minutes, all the classrooms that are in the building that I am may all be full at prayer time, so I have to go to another building but there is still no guarantee that I will find an empty room and I don’t like to pray outside because I like to have some kind of privacy.”

Al Hashem denied Banzhaf’s claim that Muslim students were complaining because they could not pray in places that displayed Catholic symbols, such as the crucifixes which are affixed to the walls of all University classrooms.

“It is obvious that Banzhaf has no idea what Muslim students are experiencing here on campus and I would not want to be represented by a person like Banzhaf,” she said. “He is claiming that we as Muslims can’t pray in a room that displays Catholic symbols. I’m not sure where he got that idea from, but I’m certain that it is not true. It is perfectly fine to pray in a place like that. I’ve prayed in many rooms that had crosses and pictures of Jesus, and there was no problem doing so.”

Al Hashem said that part of her decision to attend the University was because she had a strong desire to be at a place that took religion seriously, no matter which religion that was.

“I chose to attend CUA because it is a religious school,” she said.  “I didn’t really care what religion it belonged to. As long as God is present in their everyday life, then it is fine with me.”

She said that one of her favorite parts of the University is the beautiful Catholic symbols which are displayed all over campus.

Both Al Hashem and Al Salmi said that they were surprised that this issue has gotten so much national attention and that the facts about how Muslims feel about the University have been so erroneous.

And, of course Zuhdi Jasser took this opportunity (without having all the facts) to go on Fox and Friends and discuss this “Islamacist supremacist” incident of Muslim students “imposing their ideas” on others.

Even the very conservative Patrick Buchanan published an article saying that his initial statement about this controversy was incorrect.  Buchanan says

Looking further into the matter, that was a rush to judgment.
For it seems that not a single Muslim student at CUA had gone to the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights to file a complaint.
That complaint was the work of John Banzhaf, a professor at GW, perennial litigant, and longtime contender for the title of National Pest.

...  Banzhaf claimed Muslim students had been offended by a suggestion that they meditate in campus chapels “and at the cathedral that looms over the entire campus — the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.”
Yet it is Banzhaf who appears to be the one with a real problem with Jesus, the shrine and Catholicism, not the Muslim students whose numbers at CUA have doubled in five years.

UPDATE 11/29/2011

Banzhaf seems to have personal issues with Catholic University.  The University announced that it was returning to single sex dorms instead of coed.  It was reported that Banzhaf has filed another lawsuit against Catholic University challenging this decision and claiming it’s a human rights violation. CUA’s alumni magazine The Tower has more information on that suit.

UPDATE 7/29/2012

In a typical example of keeping the anti-Muslim pot boiling, even after all of these facts have come out, Pamela Geller today posted another article GW School of Law Professor John Banzhaf is demanding that Catholic University in Washington D.C. remove crosses and Christian symbols so as not to offend Muslims in which she introduces an article from PJ Media about this with the words As colleges and universities continue to make extraordinary accommodation to Muslims on their campuses (i.e. Muslim prayer rooms, foot baths, sharia-compliant curriculum, etc) the war on non-believers widens. And, closes by calling Banzhaf’s actions Extraordinary dhimmitude.

Geller has never updated her original 11/27/11 article with the accurate information, and now adds this article which continues to give the impression that this action by an attorney famous for bringing litigation somehow serves the interests of Muslims, or is at the behest of Muslims.

Update 5/18/2015

It is almost unbelievable that these ridiculous non stories continue making the rounds in the Islamophobia echo chamber.  Banzhaf is at it again, and the Islamophobes are again blaming Muslims.  Breitbart News, The American Thinker, and Western Journalism among others have all posted alarmist articles this week.  Top Right News’ headline reads Muslims Demand That ‘Offensive’ Crosses Be Removed… From CATHOLIC School.  The Inquisitor posted an article, and Pamela Geller wrote:

...  Anywhere American law and Islamic law conflict, it’s American law that inevitably has to give way.

These demands for special accommodation are everywhere. Hertz, Heinz, Costco, IKEA, Target, Wal-mart, Disneyland,  McDonalds and hundreds of others have all been in the cross-hairs. Islamic demands and the ensuing lawsuits in order to impose sharia (Islamic law).

This is exactly the pattern that I meticulously document in my must-read primer, Stop the Islamization of America.  If you don’t agree that there “are too many crosses on Catholic campus,” then you are a “hater,” an “inciter,” an “islamophobe,” a “provocateur.” ...

All of these alarmist anti-Muslim articles posted this week refer to the same Beliefnet article Complaint says crosses at Catholic school offensive, prevent Muslim prayers which makes it clear that all of their conclusions are false.  As that article notes “Baffled Catholic University officials say they have never received a complaint from any of the schools Muslim students.”  Furthermore, that Beliefnet article is from 2011.

It seems that these folks just recycle the same old stories when they have a slow news week, and they don’t even seem to remember what they have written before, or that the story has been debunked.  Hatred does terrible things to the mind.

Here is what the National Catholic Register had to say about this No, Catholic U is NOT under investigation for offending Muslim students…Another day, another faux crisis: …regardless what you may have read recently on Breitbart News, among many, many other right-wing sources. ...  Everybody take a deep breath. Nothing is actually happening here. ...   Read the entire article for ACTUAL FACTS.


Prof. Banzhaf’s page from GWU Law 

John Banzhaf’s Personal War on Catholic University

Bigot John Banzhaf Attacks Catholic University - For Not Accomodating Muslims

Catholic University Same-Sex Dorms: Antonin Scalia Expresses Support Against John Banzhaf Lawsuit

Catholic University’s Muslim Students Should Have Prayer Rooms Without Crucifix, Complaint States

Discrimination against Muslims charge ‘without foundation,’ Catholic University says, Michelle Bauman

In defense of Muslims at Catholic University, Meredith Jessup

Lawyer charges Catholic University with civil rights violations, Josef Kuhn

Muslim Students Not Behind Complaint Against Catholic University, Brittany Smith

Muslims and Catholics vs. Banzhaf,  Asma Uddin and Ashley McGuire

‘Our human rights have been violated’: Muslim students accuse Catholic University in 60-page dossier


Originally posted 10/30/2011