Muslim Footbaths At Public Colleges Spark Controversy

Universities in Michigan and Minnesota have been beset with controversy surrounding installation of foot-washing basins for Muslim students.

The University of Michigan-Dearborn is proceeding with a plan to spend $25,000 on installing foot-washing stations to accommodate Muslim students, whose religious beliefs require numerous washings throughout the day before praying.

But the proposal raised the hackles of citizens, pundits and civil liberties activists.

“Technically, they’ve got a problem, because it’s public money they’re using to pay for this,” Hal Downs, head of the Michigan Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told The Detroit News.

University officials are defending their plan, saying they are needed for sanitary concerns and calling the units a “reasonable accommodation.” University official Terry Gallagher also told the newspaper that the foot baths would be paid for with student fees, not tax dollars.

Minneapolis Community and Technical College also sparked controversy earlier this year when plans were announced to create foot baths for Muslims.

The action prompted the board of Minnesota’s State Colleges and Universities to contemplate guidelines for religious accommodations on its campuses and a state legislator to introduce a bill that would allow college officials to display religious symbols in their work areas.

According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune the foot-washing proposal was prompted after a Muslim student injured herself while attempting to cleanse her feet in a bathroom sink.